Canada election: Tight race expected for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

The federal riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay will see a rematch between four out of the five candidates. In 2019, the race between the NDP and rival Conservatives was one of the tightest in the country. Political observers say this race will be one of the most interesting to watch in British Columbia. Shelby Thom reports.

Two years after one of the closest races in the country, the federal riding of South Okanagan—West Kootenay will see a rematch between four out of the five candidates.

Political observers say the projected tight race between the NDP and the Conservatives will be one of the most interesting to watch in British Columbia.

The candidates

NDP incumbent Richard Cannings narrowly defeated the Conservative challenger, Helena Konanz, by less than 800 votes in 2019.

Cannings, a longtime Penticton resident and renowned biologist, is seeking a third term, having first been elected in 2015.

2019 election results in the federal riding of South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

2019 election results in the federal riding of South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

Global News

He said he enjoys being the “voice of science” in Parliament and isn’t ready to step away from federal politics.

“That’s why I am running again. I enjoy it a lot and I think there’s a lot more that I can contribute. I think there is more to be done. This is a very important election, even though we didn’t want it,” he told Global News.

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Cannings acknowledged he must campaign hard in an effort to once again defeat Konanz and the Conservatives.

WATCH BELOW: Richard Cannings, South Okanagan-West Kootenay NDP incumbent in the 2021 federal election, speaks to Global News about the tight race with the Conservatives as he seeks a third term.

“This has historically been a Conservative riding, the Conservatives are motivated in this election, but we are motivated as well,” he said.

Konanz, a former Penticton city councillor and professional tennis player, said it’s time for a shakeup in Ottawa.

“I know that I know the issues better than all the other candidates, and I also know that I have the energy and the passion to service this community and this riding a lot better than our current member of Parliament,” she said.

The sprawling riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

The sprawling riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

Global News

“Right now, the prediction is it’s very tight, but we believe we have the momentum going for us.”

The Liberal candidate placed a distant third with 17 per cent of the vote in 2019. The party decided to try out a new candidate in 2021 and brought in Ken Robertson from Toronto.

WATCH BELOW: Helena Konanz, South Okanagan-West Kootenay Conservative candidate in the 2021 federal election, is back for round two, having narrowly lost to Cannings in 2019.

Robertson, a caregiver and autism advocate, said while his family lives back east to obtain the services they need for their two autistic children, he is living in the riding during the campaign and plans to fly back and forth if elected.

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Robertson is a member of the Neskonlith Indian Band near Chase, B.C., and said he has ties to the Penticton Indian Band (PIB).

“I plan to be here. This is going to be my home once I am elected,” he said.

“As the only visible minority Indigenous candidate, I think we have to look at that in a different perspective and lens when it comes to that,” Robertson said of being a parachute candidate.

WATCH BELOW: Ken Robertson is a parachute candidate from Toronto and is carrying the Liberal banner for the riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay. He speaks to Global News about his election priorities.

The Green Party received eight per cent of the vote in 2019 with Tara Howse of Rossland, B.C., as the candidate. She expects to perform better in 2021.

“I am a second time and I’ve got some name recognition this time. I also had a whole support team ready to deploy. We were on the ground and running as soon as that writ was dropped,” Howse said.

“I am meeting a lot of people who are really disaffected and disillusioned with the current (provincial) NDP government and concerned about the impacts of Conservative governance, so the Green Party is here, we are strong, and I am poised and ready to take on the position as MP.”

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Sean Taylor is also representing the People’s Party of Canada for a second time.

He is an emergency room nurse in Grand Forks, B.C., and said his party is the only one of dissent.

“If you’re for lockdowns, and you think that there is a massive global pandemic that is coming to kill you, and systemic racism, and the climate emergency, and the only answer to these questions is the warm embrace of government, then you can choose the Greens, NDP, Liberals or Conservatives because they are all on the same platform,” Taylor said.

The issues

On COVID-19 economic recovery, the Liberals have promised to restore employment to pre-pandemic levels — going beyond one million jobs.

If re-elected, the Liberals plan to establish a $15 federal minimum wage, permanently extend EI sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks, and provide Canada’s hard-hit tourism industry with temporary wage and rent support of up to 75 per cent of their expenses to help them get through the winter.

The Liberals’ election platform notes that a Liberal government created the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), and introduced the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which it says has helped businesses keep more than five million Canadians at work since the start of the pandemic.

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Robertson promised that supports would continue.

“We want to support those businesses with CERB and subsidies for rent so that we keep them online through the winter into the next spring,” he said.

The Conservatives have laid out a detailed plan to get Canadians back to work, including four initiatives to create jobs.

WATCH BELOW: Tara Howse, South Okanagan-West Kootenay Green party candidate in the 2021 federal election, speaks to Global News about her priorities for the region, if elected to Ottawa.

It includes paying up to 50 per cent of the salary of new hires for six months following the end of the CEWS; providing a five per cent investment tax credit for any capital investment made in 2022 and 2023, with the first $25,000 to be refundable for small business; providing a 25 per cent tax credit on amounts of up to $100,000 that Canadians personally invest in a small business over the next two years; and providing loans of up to $200,000 to help small and medium businesses in hospitality, retail and tourism get back on their feet, with up to 25 per cent forgiven.

The NDP said it’s committed to supporting workers with paid sick leave and prescription drug coverage.

If elected, the NDP said it will create a low-income supplement so that no one who is relying on EI receives less than $2,000 a month.

The New Democrats also committed to implementing a federal minimum wage starting at $15 an hour and indexed to the cost of living, while ensuring small business wage and rent subsidies continue until businesses can fully reopen amid COVID-19.

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“To help small businesses get people back to work, we’ll put in place a long-term hiring bonus to pay the employer portion of EI and CPP for new or rehired staff,” the NDP platform said.

Cannings said the NDP, the fourth party in Ottawa before Parliament was dissolved, pushed the Liberals to bolster subsidies when the pandemic first hit.

“This has been a pandemic of two years, really since the last election, and we have been completely focused on helping Canadians across the country, and in this riding, and because of the work of the NDP, the Liberals just wanted to tweak EI when suddenly there were three million people out of work when COVID hit,” he said.

WATCH BELOW: Sean Taylor is representing the People’s Party of Canada for a second time in the riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay. The ER nurse tells Global News his party will be the only voice of dissent in Ottawa.

“The NDP said we have to help all workers, not just the 40 per cent that can qualify for EI, so CERB was born. CERB has brought over $200 million of supports into this riding.”

The Green Party promised it would extend wage and rent subsidies until COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions are fully lifted, hold the small business tax rate at no more than nine per cent and reduce the paperwork burden on small businesses by eliminating duplicative tax filings and red tape.

The PPC said Ottawa “should stop taking billions of dollars” from the private sector and redistributing them through subsidies.

“It should instead lower taxes for all businesses and encourage saving and investment to make our economy more productive,” the party’s platform said.

Wildfires and climate change

A re-elected Liberal government would dedicate $500 million to train 1,000 new firefighters, provide equipment and increase aerial capacity.

“We need to support them by training 1,000 new firefighters but also equipping them with Canadian-made aircraft to support them with bigger water bombers so that when provinces and territories ask for help during the seasons that we are there to help them,” Robertson said.

The Liberals promise to implement the recently passed Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act and advance measures to achieve a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

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The Conservatives said they will implement a Personal Low Carbon Savings Account, which Canadians will pay into each time they buy hydrocarbon-based fuel. People can then apply the money in their account towards green alternatives.

If elected, the Conservatives said they will also implement a national action plan on floods, including establishing a residential high-risk flood insurance program, and address wildfire and drought exposure in collaboration with farmers, ranchers and foresters.

“Here in the Okanagan, we need to make sure that we have firefighters ready every year; we don’t want to wait until an emergency is called by the province,” Konanz said.

The NDP has committed to an additional $3 billion over four years to help municipalities respond to disasters and build climate resilience infrastructure while setting a target of reducing emissions by at least 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

“Doing things like getting real, substantial federal funding to help communities like Penticton or Oliver or Osoyoos or Anarchist Mountain or Castlegar, who have a forest interface, to FireSmart their communities,” Cannings said.

The Green Party said it wants to achieve net-zero emissions as quickly as possible by ensuring a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 60 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and cancel all new pipeline and oil exploration projects.

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“When I hear that it’s just provincial jurisdiction, it really bothers me. What we need to start with is a national forest strategy. We don’t have one of those, let’s create one,” Howse said.

The PPC claims the science doesn’t back the issue of global warming and it would withdraw from the Paris Accord and abandon “unrealistic” greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

“I think we could do a better job with forest management. As far as the climate emergency, weather is always changing, we don’t believe in alarmism, the models don’t link up with reality, and we believe that things are always changing,” Taylor said.

Housing affordability

The Liberals said they created Canada’s National Housing Strategy, a 10-year plan to invest over $72 billion to build supply, improve affordability and address homelessness. The government also introduced the First-Time Home Buyers’ Incentive and announced Canada’s first national tax on vacant property owned by non-residents.

The Liberals plan to introduce a new rent-to-own program and a tax-free First Home Savings Account that will allow Canadians under 40 to save up $40,000 towards their first home.

“We want to stop flipping housing, setting up a bill of rights, so no more blind bidding for instance, but also we wanted to make rent-to-own programs for those who want to achieve,” Robertson said.

The Conservatives said they will increase supply by leveraging federal infrastructure investments, release at least 15 per cent of government-owned real estate for housing, build public transit and incentivize developers while banning foreign investment in homes for two years.

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“Conservatives have a plan for building one million homes in the next few years to address that issue,” Konanz said.

A New Democrat government would create at least 500,000 units of quality, affordable housing in the next 10 years and spur the construction of affordable homes by waiving the federal portion of the GST/HST on the construction of new affordable rental units.

“We have pledged to build 500,000 units of affordable housing so that people can roof over their heads. Everybody deserves to have a home,” Cannings said.

The Greens said they would maintain a moratorium on evictions until the pandemic is over, create national standards to establish rent and vacancy controls, and raise the “empty home” tax for foreign and corporate residential property.

“Housing is a human right. We should all have the right to live in safe, secure and stable housing,” Howse said.

The PPC said it would “substantially reduce” immigration quotas to reduce demand for housing and stop funding social housing.

“The People’s Party of Canada talks about reducing immigration to levels pre-Harper government of about 100-150,000. I think that would have an immediate impact,” Taylor said.

There are countless election issues and each party’s platform is available on their website. General voting day is Monday, Sept. 20.

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