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Battleground BC

West Kootenay-Boundary and Nelson Creston Move into ‘Solid’ NDP column.

Two NDP strongholds firm up.

By Will McMartin, 19 Apr 2005,

Two historic New Democratic Party strongholds in the Kootenays have been moved into the ‘solid’ NDP column. West Kootenay-Boundary previously was considered ‘up-for-grabs,’ while Nelson-Creston was considered ‘likely’ to return a NDP MLA.

West Kootenay-Boundary was won in 2001 by Liberal Sandy Santori. The veteran mayor of Trail garnered 10,784 votes (49.7% of total valid votes), nearly 4,000 ahead of Ed Conroy, the New Democratic Party incumbent. Santori initially served as minister of management services, but was demoted to minister of state for resort development in 2004.

Late last year, after being re-nominated as the riding’s Liberal candidate, Santori unexpectedly announced his retirement from politics. Local observers say that while he was a widely-respected mayor, he did not appear to have much influence in Victoria and came under criticism for his government’s program and service cuts in Castlegar, Rossland, Trail and elsewhere in the riding.

The electoral district was known as Rossland-Trail prior to redistribution five years ago, and held by the New Democrats from 1972 to 2001. Conroy won election to the legislature in 1991 (with 51.7% of the vote), was re-elected in 1996 (with 50.7%), before losing in the last general election (with 31.9%).

His wife, Katrine Conroy, is the New Democratic Party candidate in the current general election. She is regarded by locals as dynamic and talented, and enjoys a much-higher public profile than her Liberal opponent, Pam Lewin.

Six of the last eight general elections in Nelson-Creston returned New Democratic Party MLAs. The exceptions were in 1986, when Socred Howard Dirks topped the polls, and 2001, when Blair Suffredine, a Liberal, was victorious. Suffredine collected 8,558 votes (39.0%), nearly 1,600 more than NDP MLA Corky Evans.

Evans is back for a re-match in 2005, and making his fifth consecutive appearance on a Nelson-Creston ballot. He lost to Dirks in 1986 (despite getting 48.0% of the vote), before beating his Socred nemisis in 1991 (with 46.9%) and 1996 (44.9%), and then losing to Suffredine in 2001 (31.8%).

The first Suffredine-Evans tilt was one of the closest in the province five years ago. In part that was due to Evans’ enduring popularity — the folksy MLA made two well-publicized, but unsuccessful bids for the NDP leadership — but also to a strong challenge by Green party candidate, Colleen Mccrory, who took 21.5% of valid votes.

Compared to the 2001 results, vote-shares for the Liberals and Greens in Nelson-Creston should decline in 2005. Suffredine ran nearly 20 percentage points behind his party in the last contest, and with the Liberals now in the mid-40s rather than the high-50s, re-election looks close to impossible. The Green candidate five years ago was the well-known environmentalist, Colleen Mccrory, who has opted out of the current contest.

Evans, meanwhile, should improve on his last performance with a popular vote-share in the mid- to high-40s, and return to the legislature as MLA.

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  [Tyee]