B.C. Votes 2017: Kelowna-Mission riding profile
Steve Thomson seeks re-election in a region that has been the heart of the 'Free Enterprise Party' for years
In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Kelowna-Mission, one of seven ridings in the Okanagan — a region that's had few surprises historically on election night.
1. Steve Thomson is old enough to remember when much of his riding was brush.
"Some times you're out campaigning in an area that, when I was growing up, didn't have any homes," the two-term MLA and Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says.
"You're going up and down streets and areas that used to be bike trails and hiking paths, and as kids you used to play in."
2. It's a product of Kelowna's massive population growth through the decades.
The city has grown from more than 50,000 people in 1976 to over 120,000 people today, and Kelowna-Mission contains the southern and eastern parts of the city (extending out to Hydraulic Lake), and is home to many of the suburban and exurban neighbourhoods that expanded because of that population boom.
3. Like the other Kelowna ridings, it reliably supports the "free enterprise" party.
Before splitting into multiple ridings prior to the 1991 election, Kelowna was the centre of Okanagan South, which was home to former premier W.A.C. Bennett from 1941 to 1973, and his son and fellow premier Bill Bennett from 1973 to 1986.
Little wonder then that Kelowna became reliably B.C. Liberal after the party supplanted Social Credit as the province's dominant centre-right party: the region has only elected Liberal candidates since 1996, and Thomson's 56.9 per cent support in 2013 was 10th highest for the party in the province.
For 2017, the NDP and Green Party didn't name their candidates until just before the start of the 2017 campaign. For the NDP, it's Harwinder Sandhu, a nurse who lost the party's nomination in Vernon-Monashee and for the Greens, it's Rainer Wilkins, the vice-president of the Kelowna Arts Council.
4. Where does the NDP do well?
It does well in the lower-income areas of the city directly south of Highway 97 in Rutland, and the polling stations adjacent to Richter Street near Okanagan Lake.
5. What about the Liberals?
As a general rule, the party does better the further east or south one goes in the riding, receiving over 80 per cent of the vote in some polling stations around Joe Riche Road and Upper Mission.
6. The success of the party and the growth of Kelowna create a continuous feedback loop for electoral success.
Since Kelowna has continually grown since its voters started electing W.A.C. Bennett to office, the economy has been somewhat insulated from the booms and busts in other regions of B.C., and consequently voters have had little to change their voting patterns.
"I think they acknowledge and recognize what our government is able to do for the region," said Thomson, whose neighbouring MLA since 2013 has been Christy Clark in Westside-Kelowna.
"From W.A.C. and Bill Bennett, this region has a history of supporting free-enterprise parties, and has benefited from it."