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Battleground BC

The Kootenays: Good Hunting for NDP

Liberals swept all four seats in 2001. Not likely this election.

By Will McMartin, 6 Apr 2005, TheTyee.ca

In 1903, when political parties arrived on the provincial scene, the Kootenays had 11 of the legislature’s 42 seats (26%), a few boasting such colourful names as Ymir, Greenwood, Kaslo and Rossland City.

About one in every four British Columbians lived in the Kootenays in the period between the 1890s and the First World War. The mining industry — silver, lead, zinc, copper and coal — created dozens of small cities, boom towns and temporary mining camps.

But the Kootenays stalled over the next half-century, while the rest of B.C. experienced rapid growth. By 1952 the region boasted just eight of 48 seats (17%).

The decline continued over the second-half of the 20th century. Today, of 79 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the Kootenay region has a mere four (5%).

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The Kootenays’ numerous mining communities provided rich recruiting opportunities for trade unions during the boom days, but labour and socialist political parties enjoyed minimal success in provincial elections. Generally, legislative seats were nearly evenly split between the Liberal and Conservative parties over the years 1903 to 1941.

The exceptions occurred when Walter Davidson won the Slocan riding on behalf of a loosely-affiliated Labour party in 1903, and John McInnes was elected as MLA for Grand Forks under the Socialist Party of Canada banner in 1907. Both were defeated after a single term.

A force unto himself was Tom Uphill. A one-time Conservative candidate, Uphill, was elected in Fernie with the Federated Labour Party in 1920, and won a remarkable 11 consecutive elections under a variety of Labour banners before retiring in 1960. He remained a caucus of one, rather than join a larger party.

The year 1941 marked a turning-point of sorts. Of eight seats, six were won by Liberal or Conservative MLAs who quickly joined forces under the Coalition banner. Uphill held his Fernie seat, but the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (or CCF, the fore-runner of the New Democratic Party) broke through with the election of Bert Herridge ('The Squire of Kootenay West') in Rossland-Trail. Herridge was defeated in 1945 after single term, but that same year fellow CCFer Randolph Harding captured Kaslo-Slocan, the first of his nine consecutive victories.

In 1949, the Coalition won four of the Kootenays’ eight seats, and the ‘left’ won an equal number: Uphill and Harding held their seats, and the CCF added Cranbrook and Grand Forks-Greenwood.

After the emergence of Social Credit in 1952, the Kootenays remained nearly evenly divided for four decades between the Socreds on the ‘right’ and the CCF-NDP on the ‘left.’

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The Kootenays attained its present total of four seats in 1979 following redistribution. In the general election of that year, and in those following in 1983 and 1986, Social Credit and the New Democratic Party each won two seats. The Socreds swept Columbia River three times, while the NDP had a similar record in Rossland-Trail. Kootenay returned a Socred twice and New Democrat, once; while Nelson-Creston favoured the NDP twice, and Social Credit, once.

Social Credit then disappeared from the region, as the NDP captured all four seats in 1996 and 1996. The New Democrats suffered a similar fate in 2001, when the Liberals emerged victorious across the region.

Three Liberal MLAs are seeking re-election in 2005: Bill Bennett should be very difficult to dislodge in East Kootenay; Wendy McMahon will be in a closely-fought contest in Columbia River-Revelstoke; and Blair Suffredine looks to have an uphill challenge in holding his Nelson-Creston seat against former NDP MLA Corky Evans.

The New Democrats should have a better-than even chance of regaining West Kootenay-Boundary, where Liberal MLA Sandy Santori has opted for retirement after a single term. This riding encompasses much of the old Rossland-Trail electoral district, a NDP stronghold from 1972 until 2001.

TABLE -- Kootenay ridings, listed in order of Liberals’ 2001 vote-share

  • East Kootenay — 61.9%
  • Columbia River-Revelstoke — 54.0
  • West Kootenay-Boundary — 49.7
  • Nelson-Creston — 39.0

Check in daily for Battleground BC, Will McMartin’s voting predictions and analysis, exclusive to The Tyee. You can reach him with tips, insights and info at will@thetyee.ca  [Tyee]