British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Kelowna-Lake Country riding profile

A look at Kelowna-Lake Country, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick seeks re-election in this 'free enterprise' stronghold

The riding includes the northern half of Kelowna (excluding downtown), along with the communities of Oyama, Winfield and Lake Country to the north. (Elections BC)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Kelowna-Lake Country, one of the Okanagan's seven ridings — and an area that has long been a B.C. Liberal stronghold.

1. There are reasons you don't hear a lot about Kelowna-Lake Country during provincial election campaigns. 

It's a riding outside Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria that's not a swing seat.

The Liberals have won the seat by at least 4,900 votes in all four elections it's existed.

The NDP have never been elected in any area of the Okanagan between Kelowna and Vernon. 

Liberal MLA and Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick is not a controversial figure. 

There are no hot-button issues or economic woes in the central Okanagan.

And on and on it goes. Unless you live in the Okanagan, this will probably be your only time you hear about Kelowna-Lake Country. 

2. But while ridings like Kelowna-Lake Country may not be interesting from a big picture, electoral perspective, the important constituency work is always there. 

"I come here as a servant of my constituents. If I'm not [re-elected], it's because I didn't do a good enough job on delivering on their priorities," said Letnick, first elected in 2009.

A former city councillor in both Banff, Alta. and Kelowna, Letnick takes a pragmatic approach to provincial politics.

"On city council I said we can do a lot of work here, but the money is in Victoria, the decisions are in Victoria, especially on the key issues ... so why I don't I run provincially and fight to get the resources I need for my community?" he said.

"That's really what I've been trying to do the last eight years in my MLA role. Knowing where all the resources are — and that's code for money — all the programs, identify what my priorities are for my constituents back home, and match up those opportunities, so I can deliver."

3. In a riding like Kelowna-Lake Country, work is both local and regional in nature. 

In the B.C. Interior, the cities of Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George have multiple MLAs that represent both a portion of the city, and part of the surrounding area. It makes big-ticket transportation and infrastructure projects that their respective regions rely on particularly important. 

"With my colleagues on the Central Okanagan on the new surgical centre, the new highway through Lake Country, expanding the six-laning of highway 97, a trades building at Okanagan College, the list goes on," said Lentick, whose riding represents the northeastern portion of Kelowna and the grassy, rolling countryside between the city and Vernon, dotted with small, content lakeside communities like Oyama and Winfield. 

"We share the air, we share the highway, we share agriculture, UBCO, Okanagan College, there's so many things we share that we always have to look at each other, so the boundaries in our ridings disappear." 

Keen observers will note the Liberals have held every riding in Kamloops, Kelowna since 2001 — and currently, all seven MLAs from those cities are also cabinet ministers. 

4. Who is running against Letnick?

The NDP announced in late March that its candidate was Erik Olesen, a 26-year-old Vernon resident with management experience in the retail industry.

The Green Party candidate is Alison Shaw, a PhD graduate from UBC who founded the environmental consulting company Flipside Sustainability.

5. Where does the NDP do well?

The NDP tends to do best in Rutland North, particularly in polling stations closest to Highway 97 or Highway 33, and have had success in Winfield, particularly in the large Holiday Park RV and Condo Resort.

6. What about the Liberals?

They do very well in nearly every part of the riding, but particularly in the Kelowna neighbourhood of Dilworth Mountain, gaining over 75 per cent of the vote in some polling stations. 

7. Letnick is excited for the campaign for the same reason as most candidates.

It's a time to knock on doors ("you get to hear people's priorities and aspirations one on one") a time to work with volunteers ("that's what's going to carry us through this election, the support we get from people stepping up saying yes, I want to make a phone call for you, yes I want to stuff an envelope for you")  and a time to debate other candidates.

But it's also a time to lose some weight. 

"When I'm out there campaigning, I'm running home to home, whether it's uphill, downhill or a flat ... I try and set the bar high for myself," he said.  

"I'm 59, and I want to make sure I hit 69 if I can." 

​​With files from Richard Zussman