British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: West Kootenay riding profile

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

It's one of the most dispersed ridings in the province — and one of the friendliest to the NDP

(Elections BC)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Kootenay West, one of four ridings in the Kootenays — and one that will likely be decided early on election night if history is any indication.

1. Voting in the West Kootenay region has been about the most predictable exercise in the province for about a generation.

In the last six elections, there's been a Conroy on the ballot for the NDP — Ed from 1991 to 2001, and his wife Katrine after that. With the exception of the 2001 election, a Conroy has been elected by a wide margin.

In 2013, Conroy received 63 per cent of the vote. 

The name of the riding has changed over the years, from Rossland -Trail to West Kootenay-Boundary to Kootenay West, but for the last 26 years the area surrounding Castlegar, Trail and the Arrow Lakes has been reliably NDP territory.

The Liberal candidate is Jim Postnikoff, a small business owner who was the party's candidate in 2013. The Green Party candidate is Sam Troy, the ski patrol dispatcher for Rossland's famous Red Mountain Resort.

2. The region wasn't always an NDP stronghold, however.

Before 1972, the ridings of Rossland-Trail and Nelson-Creston had only elected an NDP or CCF candidate once.

Since then, the area has only elected NDP candidates, with the exception of both ridings in 2001 and Nelson-Creston in 1986.

3. Unionism is part of the reason for the NDP's strength.

Takaia Larsen, a history teacher at Selkirk College, says there's a number of reasons for the NDP's dominance in the region, but many of them are based around the party's consolidation of people who identify as labour and union supporters.

"A lot of people in this region have made their living through the resource-based economy, where unionism has tied the community together and the workforce together, and I think you see the remnants of how people work here," she said.

Kootenay West stretches from Arrowhead in the north to the U.S. border in the south, and Fauquier to Sandon from west to east. The riding is filled with mid-sized towns that have historically been dominated by a pulp mill, such as in Castlegar, or a smelter, such as in Trail, or smaller mines dotted throughout the region.

"I grew up here, and almost every family worked in Cominco," said Larsen, referring to the famous zinc smelter now owned by Teck.

"We grew up [at] the dinner table with lots of union conversation, and I have those same kind of conversations with my own kids. There's a very deep and interesting history that way." 

4. Immigration waves have also shaped the political culture of the West Kootenays. 

From the Doukhabors at the beginning of the 20th century, to the arrival of the American draft dodgers in the middle, the area has always had a larger share of immigrants with an anti-war, collectivist disposition.

"A lot of them were living towards that communal dream of cooperation and living together and found an outlet for that here," said Larsen.

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

It does well everywhere, but the party receives 70 to 80 per cent in many polling stations in Fruitvale, Rossland, the centre of Castlegar, and the South Slocan/Krestova area, where there is a large Doukhobor population.

6. What about the Liberals? 

The party doesn't do well in Trail, but it does better there than any of the other communities in the southwest Kootenays. It's also competitive in Nakusp.  

7. As much as the past can provide electoral clues in the Kootenays, discussions about the future will guide the campaign.

Over the decades, the natural resource-based economy in the Kootenays has stalled, population growth has stagnated, and schools and hospitals have closed — even in communities as large as Castlegar.

It means, as in so many places in the Interior, that policy debates — be they on infrastructure, on education and health care, or on the economy — take on an adversarial tone.

"We're always going to suffer for feeling like we're the hinterland outside the Lower Mainland," said Larsen.

"There's a feeling that we provide high-level services here, but they're not always funded as well when we're so far removed from the epicentre of Vancouver."