In 1904, William A. Galliher represented Nelson in Ottawa as our MP. The Liberal caucus member served with the British Nile contingent for African missions starting in 1885 and once back in Canada, eventually took up politics. He was the last federal Liberal elected in a riding that includes Nelson.
On Sunday afternoon at Nelson’s Lakeside Park, 100-plus years of political woes in the West Kootenay were the furthest thing on the minds of the faithful who showed up to greet new party leader Justin Trudeau. The city’s main park was alive with optimism about not only the possibilities for Canada in 2015, but for the Kootenays.
“I think having him here is important,” said Dan Ashman, president of the Liberals’ Southern Interior executive. “Certainly his notoriety is one thing, but also his political background and the fact that he’s an educator is really going to engage young people. We need to have younger people vote in this country and I think he’s the ticket.”
Trudeau, 41, brought out more than 300 people to the park on a gorgeous summer afternoon in the Kootenays, more than organizers anticipated.
“It’s been a tough few years,” Ashman said of the Liberals’ collapse in the 2011 federal election. “You look back at [Michael] Ignatieff and [Stephane] Dion, they didn’t have charisma. You look at leaders like Davy Barrett and Bill Vander Zalm… why do these people get elected? They have charisma. Justin has charisma.”
The closest the Liberals have come to having a candidate elected in this part of the country in recent memory was in 1993 when Garry Jenkins was edged out — 11,348 to 10,620 — by the Reform Party’s Jim Gouk. That was the year of the federal Progressive Conservatives’ collapse, but still Blair Suffredine managed to pick up 3,109 votes.
One of the most optimistic periods for local Liberals was during the 2004 election when Paul Martin was leading the party and they headed into the campaign with Trail banker Doug Stanley on the ticket. Despite spending the most cash on the campaign ($74,051), Stanley finished a distant third with 8,301 votes in a race that had Gouk narrowly beating NDP upstart Alex Atamanenko (16,940 to 16,260).
In 2006, popular former Rossland mayor Bill Profili finished a distant second to Atamanenko who beat the Liberal by 13,359 votes. That was also the year Conservative party candidate Derek Zeisman’s campaign imploded and the federal Tories disowned him only days before the vote. Zeisman still ran under the Conservatives because it was too late to change the ballot and managed to finish only 435 votes behind Profili.
The 2008 and 2011 campaigns were total disasters for the Liberals. In both elections the Green Party jumped ahead to third place and the Liberals finished way back in fourth. In 2011 they had to run an out-of-riding candidate. Okanagan resident Shan Lavell could only muster 1,872 votes.
When asked about the Liberals’ terrible track record in the Kootenays, Ashman was undeterred.
“I think a Liberal candidate can win in this riding,” he told the Star. “It has to be the right candidate and that person has to be committed. You need boots on the ground and you have to start now. You can’t wait until the spring of 2015.”
Ashman said the feeling within local ranks is they now have the right leader and the right momentum.
“I can tell you that I have been approached by three fairly high profile people,” Ashman said about potential candidates. “I can’t tell you the names right now, but I can tell you this… we have never had a situation here where two years before the election we have three people interested in running. That’s a pretty good indication of where we are.
“Justin Trudeau is the absolute reason for that.”
He may be right. The crowd that came out to see Trudeau in Nelson on Sunday did not only consist of the faithful, but also the curious.
“I’m not a Liberal Party supporter, but I just really like Justin Trudeau,” said Amy MacKay, 33. The new mother took the opportunity to have Trudea hold her infant son Henry for a photo.
“He is a teacher, coached ultimate Frisbee, he has that connection with this part of the Kootenays, his father was one of our great leaders… I feel like his family is one of our first families of Canada,” said MacKay.
And like many her age, MacKay is spreading the message about the Liberals whether intended or not. Asked if she would put the photo of her son and Trudeau on the wall, she said it was already taken care of.
“On the old Facebook wall… it’s up already,” she laughed.
William A. Galliher would be blown away.
Bob Hall is the editor of the Nelson Star. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org