Come the fall, no matter who is elected, West Kootenay will almost certainly be represented by Members of Parliament from Penticton and East Kootenay.
Unless the Kootenay Columbia Liberals find someone from around here, or more independents enter the race, we won’t even have the option of voting for a candidate who lives in our immediate neighbourhood.
It’s largely the result of the last go-round of boundary redistribution which will see the present BC Southern Interior riding held by the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko split between the new riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay to the west — including include Penticton, Castlegar, Rossland, Trail, the Slocan Valley and Arrow Lakes — and an expanded Kootenay-Columbia riding to the east — including Nelson, Kaslo, Salmo, and all of East Kootenay.
All four candidates in South Okanagan-West Kootenay are from Penticton. The three declared candidates in Kootenay Columbia are from Cranbrook, Sparwood, and Kimberley.
When was the last time our Member of Parliament didn’t live in West Kootenay? Near as I can tell, it was no more recently than 1900 when Hewitt Bostock was the member for Yale–Cariboo, which then included this area. And I only say that because I’m not certain where Bostock lived, although it may have been near Kamloops.
Mind you, it’s only by luck that we have had such ready access to our MPs. Atamanenko lives in Pass Creek and has a Castlegar office; his predecessor, Reform/Alliance/Conservative MP Jim Gouk, lived in Thrums and also had a Castlegar office. Prior to that, the NDP’s Lyle Kristiansen’s office was in Nelson, and Progressive Conservative Bob Brisco lived in Trail and had an office in Castlegar.
The riding, however — formerly known as Southern Interior, Kootenay-Boundary-Okanagan, West Kootenay Okanagan, Kootenay West-Revelstoke, and Kootenay West — has grown in the last 20 years to include the Boundary, parts of the Okanagan, and the Similkameen, so it’s already a challenge to cover all corners.
Candidates from other parts of the riding have run; they just haven’t won.
But does it really matter where the MP’s home or office is located? After all, we have phones and email and our MP will spend a lot of time in Ottawa anyway. I asked Atamanenko, who is not running for re-election, if he felt West Kootenay will suffer for not having a homegrown federal representative.
Although an outspoken opponent of the boundary changes, he’s not worried we’ll be forgotten, so long as whoever is elected makes an honest effort.
I’m not sure if Similkameen residents felt disadvantaged being served by a West Kootenay-based MP, but Atamanenko doesn’t think so.
Before running for office, he was as familiar with the western part of the riding “as most people who drive the highway and stop for gas and coffee.” But he made efforts to get to know the area and “by the time I got elected, I had a pretty good idea of what those communities were about.”
Atamanenko has an office in Oliver that is staffed four days per week and open to the public two days per week. Once a month, a staff member is in Princeton, where constituents can make appointments.
“In addition to me floating around, we make a conscious effort to make sure people have access to my staff,” he says. “I was just in Princeton and heard people say ‘You’re always here,’ even though I’m not. I give the impression that I care, which I do.”
Atamanenko said while his riding is large, it’s helpful that most communities are along Highway 3. He expects travel to be more difficult for his successors in South Okanagan-West Kootenay and Kootenay-Columbia. “We’re so used to having the epicentre of the campaign here,” he says. “Now the political reality is the major centres are Penticton and Cranbrook.”
But he said it’s critical MPs visit all parts of the areas they represent. “In my opinion, it’s a necessity. That’s what they’re elected to do. People appreciate human contact. If we represent these communities, we need to be there.”
Many people may vote strictly for the party, regardless of who is flying its colours. Others may be more swayed by the individual. But a key question for all candidates in both ridings should be: how will you ensure our area is adequately represented?