British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Vernon-Monashee riding profile

A look at Vernon-Monashee, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

It's been 25 years since the NDP won a seat in the Okanagan. Could that change in 2016?

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Vernon-Monashee, one of the Okanagan's seven ridings — and an area the NDP has historically struggled in.

1. The NDP and the Okanagan have never really mixed provincially. 

In 1991, aided by vote-splitting between the Social Credit and B.C. Liberal parties, the NDP won three ridings in the Okanagan, a breakthrough after last winning a seat in the area in 1979. 

They've been shut out of the region in every election since. In the four provincial elections this century, comprising 26 different races, the NDP have only come within 1,000 votes of the Liberals once in the Okanagan.

It's an uphill slog, to put it mildly. 

2. There are plenty of small reasons the NDP fares poorly in the Okanagan, rather than one big one. 

"The Okanagan has some interesting demographic differences from the rest of the province," says Carey Doberstein, a political science professor at UBC Okanagan, explaining why the Liberals (and before them, the Social Credit party) historically dominate here.

He says the area historically has a higher percentage of older voters, religious voters, and people who have moved to B.C. from Alberta — all groups in B.C. that have tended to marginally prefer parties on the right side of the political spectrum.

3. So what can the NDP be encouraged about?

Of course, the Conservative Party and their predecessors had a lock on the core of the Okanagan for decades, until they were upset by the Liberals in Kelowna-Lake Country and the NDP in South Okanagan-West Kootenay in the 2015 federal election. 

Doberstein notes that the increasing urbanization of Vernon bodes well for the NDP's long-term prospects, and that Kelowna's city council and mayor Colin Basran "are more progressive and quite popular."

4. However, they took a step back last election

Vernon-Monashee was a seat the NDP thought they had an outside shot of taking in 2013, after losing to Liberal MLA Eric Foster by a margin of just 5.4 per cent in 2009 (37.3%-31.8%).

But not only did they lose — Foster's margin of victory over the NDP candidate increased by 1,953 votes last election, one of the biggest swings in the entire province. 

5. Eric Foster will run for a 3rd term for the Liberals.

The former mayor of Lumby, Foster serves as the government whip, a position he has held since September 2012. His main competition is expected to be Barry Dorval, a teacher who defeated Harwinder Sandhu for the NDP`s nomination earlier this year.  

6. Could the Greens play a spoiler role?

In the 2009 election where the NDP came close in Vernon-Monashee, there was a difference of 1,317 votes between the Liberals and the NDP — and Green Party candidate Huguette Allen received over 4,000 votes. 

"The NDP ought to be most concerned about consolidating the left of centre vote, and trying to stop as many Greens slipping away," says Doberstein. 

This election, the Green Party candidate is Keli Westgate, a manager at Spa Hills Compost.

7. There's a split between central Vernon and the rest of the riding.

In the middle of Vernon, the NDP actually won more polling stations than the B.C. Liberals in 2013, and it was an even split in the town of Lumby.

But the Liberals dominated on the outskirts of the city, the wealthy neighbourhoods that overlook Okanagan Lake and the community of Coldstream. 

8. What does Monashee mean anyway?

For those outside the Interior, Monashee is the name of the mountain range to Vernon's east. Named by a Scottish prospector, it translates to "peaceful mountain". 

9. Add it up, and it's a district the Liberals are considered favourites in once again

Still, Doberstein isn't ruling out the NDP bucking trends in the reason.

"Everything is really about historical trends ... but past doesn't necessarily dictate the future." 

With files from Richard Zussman

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