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Four-way split could boost Greens in Vernon-Monashee

Vernon-Monashee was one of seven ridings highlighted by Green Party Leader Jane Sterk at the close of last night's televised leaders' debate. Here's why: A four-way brawl in the North Okanagan could give the Greens a shot at winning a seat on May 12.

At least six candidates are fighting to replace outgoing MLA Tom Christensen in Vernon-Monashee. Leading the pack are: B.C. Liberal Eric Foster, New Democrat Mark Olsen, Conservative Dean Skoreyko, and Green Huguette Allen. Also on the ballot are B.C. Refed candidate RJ Busch, and an independent whose name happens to be Gordon Campbell.

The new Vernon-Monashee riding is almost identical to the former Okanagan-Vernon riding, where the 2005 vote awarded 43 per cent to the B.C. Liberals, 34 per cent to the NDP, 12 per cent to the Conservative, 7 per cent to the Green and almost 4 per cent to an independent Campbell.

In that election, the relatively unknown Green candidate, Erin Nelson, spent only $164. This campaign is starkly different, with Huguette Allen boasting strong name recognition, support from the provincial Green leadership and a platform the puts a focus on rural issues.

Foster, the Liberals candidate, is considered the favourite. The mayor of Lumby, a tiny logging town 30 minutes east of Vernon, Foster is well-liked and has a firm command of the issue. Beating him – and ending the Liberals' two-decade-long hold on the North Okanagan – will be difficult.

Olsen, the New Democrat, finished 12th out of 22 candidates for Vernon city council in 2005. An active union leader, he will likely fight to match the NDP's 2005 showing by Juliette Cunningham, who, after losing out in the provincial election, was elected to Vernon council.

Conservative candidate Dean Skoreyko has ran both for Coldstream council and the Vernon mayoralship, both times losing but garnering respectable support. But while his name is known, he's likely best remembered for trying to unseat sitting Conservative MP Colin Mayes in a nasty nomination battle.

Green candidate Allen, though, is the X-Factor. If she can boost the Greens to double-digits, she will turn this longtime Liberals stronghold into a horse race.

While this is her first time running provincially, Allen has ran twice for the federal Green Party. Most recently, in 2008, she took 17 per cent of the vote in the Okanagan-Shuswap.

Allen knows provincial and federal voting habits do not mirror each other.

"A lot of people who vote Green during the federal election could vote the other way because they don't want (Liberal leader) Gordon Campbell," she said.

But the provincial riding is more favourable to her campaign, she said.

The provincial electoral district of Vernon-Monashee riding encompasses much of the southern portion of Okanagan-Shuswap. And Allen, who lives east of Lumby, says a post-electoral analysis of the federal vote had her winning at several polling stations. This, she said, is what led her to throw her hat in the ring – a ring that has now become quite crowded.

Allen has been able to get the other candidates to play on her turf. When the Liberals introduced new rules governing meat processing plants in 2007, Allen launched a petition calling for the rules to be eased in order to allow farm-gate sales for small-scale poultry producers. With the regulations still causing complaints, the issue once again reared its head at a debate. There, while his three opponents hammered the regulations, the Liberals' Foster said he would take concerns regarding the rules to Victoria, if elected.

Foster told The Tyee he firmly supports the regulations as a whole and that they are meant to keep the food supply safe. But he reiterated that he would provide a voice for his constituents' concerns.

As for Allen and the crowded field, Foster said he is campaigning heavily and taking nothing for granted as a candidate running in a normally Liberal riding.

"We're spending as much time as we possibly can on the street," he said.

Tyler Olsen is a freelance reporter based in Vancouver. He is no relation to the NDP candidate.

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