British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Kelowna West riding profile

A look at Kelowna West, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

4 years after losing her own seat in the general election, Christy Clark seeks a 1st full term in this riding

The riding includes the City of West Kelowna, downtown Kelowna, and the small communities that dot the west side of Okanagan Lake. (Elections B.C.)

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

1. In her bid to become just the eighth premier in British Columbia history to win two majority governments, Christy Clark faces challenges. But unlike in the last election, winning her seat isn't one of them.

"You know what the thing about Kelowna is? Everybody's so positive," said the B.C. Liberal leader, one week before the campaign officially begins. 

And Clark has reason to be positive about Kelowna. After all, two months after winning a surprise majority government but losing her own seat in Vancouver-Point Grey to the NDP's David Eby, Clark easily won a 2013 byelection in Westside-Kelowna, after Ben Stewart resigned to make way for her. (Stewart was later appointed the government's special representative in Asia).   

"You go there, people are happy, they're living there a full, very outdoorsy life. It's the birthplace of free enterprise." 

2. There's that term "free enterprise" again. 

Clark has consistently sought to connect her premiership to that of former Social Credit leaders W.A.C. and Bill Bennett, who ran British Columbia for all but three years between 1952 and 1986.

This manifests itself in ways large: an emphasis on megaprojects, on populist campaigning, on championing the Interior. 

And it manifests itself in ways small: the fact that Brad Bennett, son of Bill and grandson of W.A.C., will be by her side during the campaign again. And the fact that Clark will regularly bring up, unprompted, that the Bennetts were from and represented Kelowna, back when the riding was known as Okanagan South.

"The thing about Kelowna is they've had two premiers from there, so they know a little bit about the fact that premiers have to travel a lot," she said, discussing the fact that she still lives most of the time in Vancouver.

"For the premier, no matter where he or she lives, you don't get to see as much as your riding because you're travelling all the time. I'm in Cranbrook, I'm in Campbell River, I'm in Kitimat. That's the job. You don't get to sleep in your own bed every night." 

3. The combination of history, demographics and Clark's stature means only partisan diehards are betting against her personal re-election at this stage.

Clark's election loss to Eby was considered a monumental upset by some in 2013, but it shouldn't have been. The riding had always contained a mix of fiscal conservatives, wealthy centrists, university students and longtime progressives. Former premier Gordon Campbell, who held the seat before Clark, won three of his four elections here by less than 2,500 votes.

By contrast, Kelowna West has never elected an NDP MLA, and has been solidly B.C. Liberal since 1996, with the party winning the riding containing West Kelowna by at least 4,500 votes in all six elections and byelections since. 

The riding itself contains plenty of the Okanagan's wealthiest homes along the shores of Lake Okanagan, within the growing suburban municipality of West Kelowna, along with small retirement, summering and houseboat communities to the north.

4. Premiers never deal directly with constituency matters as much as most MLAs, but Clark benefits by being part of the party's strong and stable Okanagan team. 

"I have a great constituency staff there for sure, but sometimes if it's a big problem and I can't get there, I'll just phone people," she said, quickly citing several local issues she's worked on including the Westside Road expansion, a BC Hydro redundancy line, and expansion of the local airport and hospital. 

"We've made some really positive changes in Kelowna, along with Steve [Thomson] and Norm [Letnick]," she said, referring to the other two Liberal MLAs in the city. 

5. Who are the other candidates running against Clark?

The NDP candidate, announced in late March, is Shelley Cook, a PhD student at UBC Okanagan and former executive director of the John Howard Society in Kelowna, a non-profit organization that focuses on health and social issues.

The Green Party candidate is Robert Mellalieu, the owner of Kelowna's F1 Computer Services.

6. Where does the NDP do well?

While the vast majority of the riding is in West Kelowna, it also includes the downtown area of Kelowna itself — and it's there where the NDP sometimes draws even with the Liberals. The NDP specifically does well directly to the east of Richter Street.

7. What about the Liberals?

It dominates in Lakeview Heights, the spacious homes south of the highway that oversee Okanagan Lake, receiving anywhere from 65 to 80 per cent in most of them. The party also does extremely well in the area surrounding Shannon Lake.

8. It all makes for an interesting examination of leader and riding — if not necessarily an interesting electoral battle.

The premier said, "sometimes I feel like I'm not really from anywhere" after four years of travelling between Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and various events throughout the province. 

Yet it's clear that, for a multitude of reasons, West Kelowna occupies a soft space in her heart after four years representing it.

"You'd be surprised at how much of a chance I get to be out in the community when I'm there. Out skating this winter, I'm at [Giobean Espresso's] for a cup of coffee, I've become kind of a regular feature there, '"There's Christy's table in the corner,'" she said.

"I'm not there as much as I would have hoped … but I'm there enough to connect with the people in the community, I think." 

​​With files from Richard Zussman