“They always said you could run a dog in this riding as a Conservative and it would get elected. Well, I proved them wrong.”
Thus spake Ron Cannan, recently-defeated Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, in these virtual pages just yesterday.
The popular local MP echoed the jest that has been repeated in these parts for as long as I have lived here myself. Hell, at one time not long ago, you could be a fellow-traveller of Holocaust deniers, gird yourself in the armour of Christian fundamentalist self-righteousness, proclaim against evolutionary science that the Earth is a mere six millennia old, show up at a press conference on a carbon-spewing jet ski wearing a neoprene sausage-casing, and still win the hearts and votes of Okanagan Valley constituents!
Those days are behind us.
As Election Day loomed, many of us, myself included, still believed the dog-candidate consensus. Bad faith on my part, maybe. Local history never disproved the glib contention.
But as the election results rolled across the country, it began to appear that even historically-conservative Okanagan ridings might succumb to the Liberal broom that swept so many from office. In my riding, Liberal newcomer Karley Scott ran an impressive campaign and nearly hit the finish for a win before being marginally bested by Conservative incumbent Dan Albas.
And across the lake, Ron Cannan took an unexpected drubbing.
No doubt many would like to engage in finger-pointing, perhaps claiming that the Kelowna-Lake Country Green Party candidate and his conservatives-who-compost supporters split the vote on both sides and allowed Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr, to come up the middle with his big win.
Others might speculate that, by re-drawing constituency boundaries and serving up a big pie-shaped piece of Mr. Cannan’s former riding to Central Okanagan Similkameen-Nicola on the west side of the Okanagan, his minders may have deprived Cannan of substantial support from many seniors living in gated communities adjacent to Kelowna’s downtown. My Mum, God bless her Liberal heart, lives in that portion ceded to the newly-drawn riding, and she was charmed by Karley Scott when she appeared at Mum’s door a few days before the big day -- as were many others.
But there were other factors also at play this time around. And, with apologies to Mr. Stockwell Day, some of these factors were evolutionary.
To speak plainly: The Okanagan Valley is beginning to grow up. It’s no longer the exclusive retreat for aging white retirees clinging to their longings for a return to a kind of prairie populist Fifties, with Bible-beltin’ radio preachers among the most persuasive of electoral counsellors.
Despite the many corporate McChurches dotting our byways and providing excellent networking grounds for enthusiastic business Bobs and Betties, our community is evolving indeed. It’s becoming more diverse.
The increasing presence of University of British Columbia in our community, and Okanagan College expanding and upping its own ante across the Valley, signals the fact that the central Okanagan is becoming a gateway for young scholars from across the province and country and from around the world. Many of these kids come here to get educated; but many stay and join a growing number of high tech businesses, or they become entrepreneurs in their own right and establish businesses in a community that they have come to love.
With youthful Colin Basran at the city’s mayoral helm, gone are the days of re-electing glad-handing members of the Old Guard that has held sway in these parts for longer than many care to remember.
These are all positive developments.
Youth and higher education engender optimism and new perspectives.
Add to these elements the fact of a sizable increase in voter participation this time around and it becomes plausible that many among the electorate were first-time young voters who were engaged over the course of a campaign that really seemed to matter to our collective future this time around.
Of course, time will tell if the new voters will remain engaged in elections to come; but if ever there were an election when turning up at the ballot box mattered, the latest election was certainly that. One could sense this in the days leading up to it, simply by witnessing your Facebook feed or listening in on conversations all over the Valley, that young people were somehow getting the message that voting matters.
Let’s hope that the new government will not be an abject disappointment for these newcomers to electoral politics.
With time, we may even begin, as a country of engaged citizens, to re-vision what Canada means to us, to critique the austerity-based political-economy of global-capitalist neo-liberalism, and eventually turn this tank around. Future generations and their quality of life on this blue orb will depend on exactly that.
— Jeffrey Loewen is a Kelowna-based writer who plays music by day and politics by night