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Will Skeena-Bulkley battle come down to a photo finish?

I’ve tried to get past it, but in the second week of the federal election campaign the top Google hit for Skeena-Bulkley Valley Conservative candidate Sharon Smith is her naked mayor photos.

Smith, who is mayor of tiny Houston, B.C., wowed the world when photos of her sitting in the mayor’s office wearing nothing but the mayoral chain turned up on the Internet in late 2003.

Now Smith is running against New Democratic Party incumbent Nathan Cullen, who took the riding from the Alliance in 2004 and won again in 2006. Also in the race are the Green Party’s Hondo Arendt, Liberal Party’s Corrina Morhart and the Christian Heritage Party’s Rod Taylor.

After the picture fiasco some locals and councilors demanded Smith quit, but she refused stating the photos were her personal property and had been stolen. Those pictures were for no one’s eyes but her own and her husband’s, she said.

I was a reporter with the Interior News in the neighbouring town of Smithers at the time, and we were forced to cover the story (rather than cover it up) because the then-editor of the Houston Today refused to touch it. The photos appeared in tabloids as far away as The Sun in England. The UK’s notorious gossip rag added a nice touch to the revealing photos — a maple leaf covered Ms Smith’s privates.

In August 2007, Smith entered the regional news fray again when Conservative MP for Cariboo-Prince George Dick Harris gave the yet-to-run-in-a-federal election candidate a quasi-federal role. He told constituents in Skeena-Bulkley Valley that she would be their go-between — a contact for federal concerns or issues.

Harris was quoted as saying, “As Chairman of the BC Caucus of Conservative MPs, I am pleased that Sharon has accepted this role, and I know the constituents of Skeena-Bulkley Valley will derive a huge benefit from having direct contact with government, something that they have not had since 2004.”

Many constituents were outraged. They already had a contact on federal issues, and he was the man they elected with 18,596 votes in 2006 — the NDP’s Nathan Cullen. Cullen swept the far-flung riding (one of the biggest in Canada, covering the Northwestern quarter of BC from Bella Coola, up the coast to Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii on to Atlin and east to Fort St. James) and beat Mike Scott (a former Reform Party MP) by a cool 6,000 votes.

As reported by local and regional newspapers (online editions), Smith says that if she is elected the region will finally be served by an MP who is part of the sitting government.

A quick survey of candidates activities: According to his Facebook page, Mr. Cullen participated in a rally to halt coal bed methane development and joined a Terrace-based march on the Highway of Tears. According to CFTK News he challenged all of the candidates to come out against Shell’s coal bed methane development in the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena River.

Cullen, who is well known around the riding thanks to his efforts to visit all communities in his riding and meet his constituents, maintains that the race in Skeena may look a little different from those in urban ridings. He told the Interior News: “Often times we have our own campaign here in the Northwest, it is a lot different than the coverage people see on the big news stations. We rely a lot more on the kitchen table discussion and the doorstep.”

Smith’s activities during the week were not to be found on the Internet, but Harris did announce $.5 million in federal funding for community projects in the Bulkley Valley last week. Likewise neither Arendt, who is a Northwest Community College instructor in Prince Rupert, nor Morhart, also from Prince Rupert (and also on Facebook) made the news with any activities other than the fact that they are running.

Smithers-based Taylor is not only running for MP in Skeena-Bulkley Valley, but he is in the race to become the leader of the Christian Heritage Party to. Current party leader Rod Gray announced his intention to retire at the last party convention. Mr. Taylor says if he wins, he will give a voice, not only to constituents, but to the 100,000 unborn residents of the country too.

Top stories in the riding last week? In Houston, an anonymous woman sighted Bigfoot near her Buck Flats home.

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