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Battleground BC

Okanagan-Vernon and Shuswap Shift 'Solid' for Libs

Unity Party not around to siphon off conservative voters this time.

By Will McMartin, 4 May 2005,

Two seats in B.C's Central Interior, OKANAGAN-VERNON and SHUSWAP, have been moved from 'likely' to 'solid' for the Liberals.

Although the two neighbouring constituencies are located in different Battleground BC sub-regions - Okanagan-Vernon is one of five seats in the Okanagan, while Shuswap is one of four Thompson-Coquihalla ridings - they share an interesting characteristic. That is, in the 2001 general election, these two ridings were the highest in the province in terms of popular vote awarded to the short-lived B.C. Unity party.

Although Unity received votes from just 3.2% of voters across the province, they garnered four-times as much in Okanagan-Vernon and Shuswap: in the former, 13.1%; and in the latter, 12.4%.

Unity, an amalgam of various right-of-centre parties, is not a serious entity in 2005. (It is offering but a single candidate.) As a consequence, it seems likely that most of that party's support now will shift to the centre-right Liberals. That factor should provide an insurmountable advantage to the Liberal incumbents Okanagan-Vernon and Shuswap. OKANAGAN-VERNON was created in 1991 (out of the old Okanagan North electoral district) and that year re-elected Social Credit MLA Lyall Hanson, just one of seven Socreds returned to the legislature. Hanson retired in 1996, and Liberal April Sanders, a physician, won election with a bare 39.1% of the vote. The four-way contest saw credible performances by the NDP candidate at 30.0%, a Reform representative at 21.4%, and a PDA hopeful at 7.4%.

Sanders retired without seeking re-election in 2001, and was succeeded by Liberal Tom Christensen, a lawyer. He took 56.5% of the vote - a percentage point below the Liberals' province-wide average - but finished well ahead of the New Democratic Party and Unity candidates at 14.4% and 13.1%, respectively.

Christensen now enjoys an elevated profile as minister of education, and in a head-to-head battle against the NDP (without the distraction of a centre-right alternative such as Reform or Unity), should easily retain his seat.

Representing the NDP is Juliette Cunningham, a veteran school trustee. SHUSWAP has a lengthy history in the Legislative Assembly, and attained something close to its present configuration in redistribution before the 1991 general election. That initial contest was won by a New Democrat, Shannon O'Neill with a minuscule 35.5% of the vote, barely ahead of her Liberal and Social Credit opponents. She retired after a single legislative term.

O'Neill was succeeded in 1996 by Liberal George Abbott, who prevailed with a tiny 34.6% of the vote, as credible performances were recorded by NDP, Reform and PDA candidates. Abbott won re-election in 2001 with a significantly larger vote-share, 56.3%, but that again was under the Liberals' province-wide average. Trailing far behind were the NDP, Unity and Green candidates, at 16.5%, 12.4% and 10.5%, respectively. Abbott was named to cabinet in 2001 as minister of community, aboriginal and women's services.

The New Democratic Party candidate is Calvin White, a teacher and unsuccessful federal candidate in 1997.

Table - Unity party popular vote, 2001 - Top 10 ridings

  • Okanagan-Vernon - 13.1%
  • Shuswap - 12.4%
  • Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain - 10.4%
  • Prince George-Omineca - 9.9%
  • Bulkley Valley-Stikine - 9.0%
  • Abbotsford-Mount Lehman - 8.5%
  • Prince George-Mount Lehman - 7.7%
  • Kelowna-Mission - 7.1%
  • Surrey-Green Timbers - 6.9%
  • Surrey-Panorama Ridge - 6.9%

Check here 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]