Riding profile: Kamloops-North Thompson

By Cam Fortems

Kamloops This Week

Judging by the results of the last provincial election, Kamloops-North Thompson would appear to be firmly in the clutches of the governing B.C. Liberals.

Four years ago, incumbent Liberal Terry Lake picked up 52 per cent of the popular vote — the largest margin of victory going back nearly two decades in the riding. Trailing was New Democrat Kathy Kendall, with about 40 per cent.

But that short-term view ignores the history of the riding and key changes before the 2009 election. Prior to that, the electoral boundaries commission moved the lines by making the Thompson and South Thompson rivers the border of the two ridings. Previously, Kamloops-North Thompson included much of east Kamloops, including Juniper Ridge and Valleyview.

An analysis of those changes made by a political consultant before the 2009 election predicted it would make a number of riding more winnable for the NDP, including Kamloops-North Thompson.

In fact, Lake squeaked in with a two per cent margin in 2009 over NDP candidate Doug Brown.

Brown, who is not involved in this campaign, blames the shift on the NDP’s so-called Kinder surprise in Kamloops in 2013, when then-leader Adrian Dix came out against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline. Liberal advertising then effectively portrayed the party as a weather vane, shifting with whatever political opinion of the day felt right.

“It definitely was a swing riding — and still is,” Brown said.

The riding was last held by the NDP in 1991, when longtime labour organizer Fred Jackson became MLA as part of the the Mike Harcourt government. In 1996, Kevin Krueger won as a B.C. Liberal, sitting in opposition for the first and last time.

“With the demographics, they [NDP] should win with 51 per cent, not the Liberals,” said retired city political scientist Ray Pillar.

Despite those demographics and a history that includes the NDP, Pillar nonetheless believes it will take a provincewide swing for New Democrat Barb Nederpel to beat the retiring Lake’s successor, Peter Milobar. A major factor is the lack of a Conservative candidate who can take votes away from the Liberals.

“The left and the left vote will get split up,” Pillar predicted. “The NDP and the Greens will share the vote.”

The Green party did not run a candidate in 2013, but this time has a well-funded campaign with a credible candidate in Dan Hines, a part-time pastor whose family history runs deep in the North Valley and North Kamloops.

New Democrat Barb Nederpel is vying to be the first NDP MLA in the riding in more than two decades. She said she’s not running against Milobar as a candidate or against Lake as the former MLA.

“I’m on doorsteps every day and there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse for people who voted for Christy Clark and a ‘GP for me,’” she said of the B.C. Liberals’ failed promise to have a family physician for every resident by 2015.

“Thousands of people don’t have a family doctor . . . I’m focused on running against Christy Clark’s record,” Nederpel said. “That’s my focus. We’ve had 16 years of the Liberals and a lot of mismanagement and dishonesty.”

Liberal Peter Milobar said he doesn’t concern himself with whether Kamloops-North Thompson is a target for the opposition as a winnable riding.

“I don’t really look at it that way,” he said. “At this point ,we’re moving forward highlighting differences between myself and other candidates and differences between party platforms.”

Milobar is touting his understanding of the North Shore through his 12 years on council, including as mayor, and his connection to the North Thompson through leadership of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and regional hospital district.

“Up the valley, what I’m hearing is people seem to understand Kinder Morgan and support of a regional project and what it means for the valley. The fact I’m the only one in favour hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

The Green party’s Dan Hines said he and Kamloops-South Thompson counterpart Donavan Cavers have raised $33,000 and counting to make Kamloops a Green beachhead.

Hines said he is hearing opposition to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline up and down the valley. The company has provided benefit agreements to municipalities and First Nations and is a corporate donor to the B.C. Liberals.

“We’re up against big money — big money and political success have a direct correlation in our society,” Hines said, noting he is also courting people who have not voted recently.

“I don’t know how many people I met who never voted before. My standard line is ‘I’ve never ran for politics before.’”

Communist candidate Peter Kerek said the valley has never recovered from the loss of mills, including in Vavenby and Louis Creek.

“Those value-added jobs contribute so much to the economic environment compared to simply exporting raw logs,” he said.

Kerek said a Communist party would create incentives for corporations to build mills close to communities. The party calls for government taking control of natural resource industries.


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