The longest election campaign in modern Canadian history is officially underway, but for the candidates in Kootenay-Columbia, it started months ago.
“I think most of the candidates have been campaigning already, so it’s not a huge change,” said Bill Green, the Green Party candidate. “It doesn’t change anything for us, we’re going to keep campaigning hard.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the 42nd federal election campaign on Sunday morning. At 78 days, it’s the longest since the 1870s, when rolling votes took place around the country.
MP David Wilks responded to the official launch of the campaign with a news release sent out by his predecessor Jim Abbott, who is listed as his senior campaign advisor and media spokesperson.
The press release mostly repeated the words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who on Sunday said the campaign would be about the economy and security.
“Canadians will be asked to judge who has the proven experience today to keep our economy strong and our country safe,” Harper said.
Wilks, for his part, stated he was looking forward to the campaign and introducing himself to residents within the new riding boundaries.
Kootenay-Columbia is bigger this year, with the addition of Nelson, Salmo and Kaslo adding about 20,000 people to the riding. The vote split in 2011 inside the new boundaries was 50 per cent Conservative, 38.9 per cent NDP, 6.4 per cent Green, 3.5 per cent Liberal, and 1.2 per cent independent.
There are four candidates vying for election this year. MP Wilks is the incumbent, having sat in Parliament since the spring of 2011. Wilks spent 20 years in the RCMP and was the mayor of Sparwood for six years prior to being elected. In Ottawa, he has sat on the committees for aboriginal affairs, official languages, statutory regulations, justice and health. He is also chair of the Conservative Law Enforcement Caucus. His private member’s bill calling for mandatory minimum sentences in the kidnapping of young people was adopted.
The Review contacted Wilks on Monday requesting an interview. We were told he was not available and instead questions were taken by Abbott. He said the Conservative’s campaign will be more relaxed in August, before ramping up in September and October.
He said the long campaign will put a big physical and mental demand on the candidates.
“The pace you have to go at — in a 37 day campaign I was really, really pushed. I could hardly think or move by the time of election day,” said Abbott, “It’s more of a personal drag than anything.”
NDP candidate Wayne Stetski was mayor of Cranbrook from 2011 to 2014, when he was defeated in his bid for re-election. Prior to that he worked for the BC Ministry of the Environment, where he spent 22 years as a manager for BC Parks from 1980 to 2002, before becoming the regional manager for the Kootenays — a post he held until 2009.
He was announced as the NDP candidate in February and has been steadily campaigning and sending out news releases since then.
Stetski was also not available for an interview Monday. His campaign director Joy Orr issued a statement on his behalf criticizing Harper for the early writ drop.
“I’ve been actively campaigning, reaching out to voters, since the spring,” he said. “And not one of them has indicated that they think we should have a longer official campaign period.”
He repeated the NDP’s position that they were the party that represented change in Ottawa.
“People in Kootenay Columbia are ready to choose a strong voice to represent them in Ottawa,” he stated. “I’m hearing that message loud and clear.”
Don Johnston is the Liberal candidate. A resident of Nelson, he is the former CEO of the Columbia Basin Trust and Canada World Youth,
He said the long campaign will be challenging, and expensive, because of the riding’s size. He added that it will be difficult to engage with people in August. He and his campaign team will be working out a schedule for the campaign this week.
“We’re going to have to pace ourselves,” he said on the phone from Nelson. “I think all candidates are going to have to work hard while at the same time realizing this has become a marathon.”
Bill Green is representing the Green Party for the second time, after finishing third in the 2011 election. A resident of Kimberley, he has worked around the world to protect aquatic ecosystems. He is director of the Canadian Columbia River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission, a group which aims to restore the salmon run to the Columbia River.
His strategy will be to circle the community and knocking on doors.
“We don’t think (the campaign) is going to be won with dollars, we think it’s going to be won by meeting as many people as I can on their doorsteps,” he said.
One of his goals is to encourage the youth vote, which he believes will benefit the Green Party.
One issue that is certain to come up is the all-candidate debates. The NDP, Greens, and Liberals have been working on establishing a debate schedule, but so far Wilks has yet to join them.
“Voters deserve a chance to see (all candidates) face-to-face and have a chance to hear what they’re all about and ask questions,” said Johnston.
In 2011, Wilks only attended three out of seven debates. Abbott said the Conservatives would be sending out a news release regarding the debates this week.
The long election campaign means candidates will be able to spend a maximum of about $200,000, something that should benefit the Conservatives.
The federal election takes place on Monday, October 19.
We want your questions:
The Revelstoke Review will be asking questions of the candidates throughout the campaign and publishing their answers in the paper. If you have a question you want answered, e-mail it me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-837-4667? We prefer questions for all the candidates to answer, but specific ones directed at a single candidate are OK as well.