The North Okanagan-Shuswap riding has a long history of electing right-of-centre MPs and the Conservative incumbent is seeking a third term.
However, this time around there are some new factors at play.
The riding has just lived through a brutal fire season and some parts of the region are amongst the most vaccine-hesitant in B.C.’s Interior.
Five candidates vying for seat
Former business owner Mel Arnold is seeking re-election for a third term as MP for North Okanagan Shuswap.
Tackling the pandemic and affordability would be among the Conservative candidate’s top priorities.
“How would we address those issues? We would bring the budget back to balance over a 10-year time without doing drastic cuts, without attrition, but the big way would be to get Canada back working again. We are committed to recreating those one million jobs that have been lost over the pandemic,” Arnold said.
“We will do that through our job surge plan, through our rebuilding main street plan so that we get Canadians back working and participating in an active economy.”
Shelley Desautels is representing the Liberal Party.
The owner of a mapping company, and an instructor at Okanagan College, Desautels said climate change is first and foremost on her mind after this summer.
“We had the fires that affected us all whether it was you are being evacuated or you were smelling and tasting the smoke. We had the heat dome that we witnessed,” Desautels said.
“We are going to be moving towards a green economy. We are going to be training people into this new green economy. I think that our climate plan is, based on the experts that have looked at it, is the best one. It’s costed and we have actions on how we are going to get there.”
Ron Johnston is the NDP candidate.
Trained in engineering design and drafting he works for a local electronic manufacturing business.
Political accountability and climate action are on top of his priority list.
Agricultural economist and farmer Andrea Gunner is representing the Green Party.
Climate action, reconciliation, and addressing social inequality are amongst her top priorities.
“The Green Party definitely wants to stop fossil fuel subsidies,” said Gunner.
“One of the shortfalls there is we can’t just wean ourselves off oil and gas today or tomorrow we need a transition and the Green Party has a transition plan. One of the thoughts that my team has brought into it is tapping into the largely untapped geothermal energy which would help supplant what we’ve got for renewable energy for solar and wind power.”
Challenging the incumbent from the right is People’s Party of Canada candidate Kyle Delfing.
Delfing has previously run as the PPC candidate federally and as a Conservative candidate in the provincial election.
Delfing describes himself as a local business owner with a background in transport and heavy construction and said his priorities include getting Canadians back to work and addressing addictions.
“Every election I talk to people in homes who are dealing with people on the street and recovering. We don’t have enough beds, we don’t have enough funding from the (federal government) and I think that is one of the things that is probably closest to my heart,” Delfing said.
“My family has been affected by it and I know how hard it is to get help. I would like to make sure that we get that help here.”
Candidates have a wide range of opinions on vaccine passports
Two years ago, Arnold won handily, receiving more than double the votes of his closest challenger.
However, this election comes at an eventful time for the riding.
Some areas of the North Okanagan—Shuswap have lower vaccination rates, making vaccine passports more controversial in the area.
The incumbent Conservative candidate said he believes testing should be offered as an alternative.
“We agree with the party’s position that proof of vaccination or a rapid test should be made available for those people that simply can’t take the vaccination,” said Arnold.
“We have different reasons that people can’t take it. They shouldn’t be disclosed from participating in our society.”
The Green, Liberal and NDP candidates all expressed some level of support for vaccine passports.
Gunner, the Green candidate, said she is in favour of vaccine passports to protect the local small business economy and the health-care system.
“If we have to have people vaccinated on our planes, trains, and for travel, then yes, I absolutely support that because there are people that are unable to get vaccinated and we want to protect those around us,” said Desautels, the Liberal candidate.
Johnston, the NDP candidate, said he is also in favour of vaccine passports, but said the passports are a provincial jurisdiction.
“From the NDP point of view, our stance on that is that we have a lot of patchwork of different regulations across the country. So we want to see some kind of guidance and consistency to bring that all into line,” Johnston said.
Delfing, the People’s Party of Canada representative, is the only candidate not vaccinated for COVID-19. He opposes the passports.
Riding experienced brutal wildfire season
The riding is also just emerging from a harrowing and destructive wildfire season and each candidate has their own vision of how to prepare for future years.
“We need to address the climate change that’s happening,” said Arnold, the incumbent Conservative candidate.
“We have secure the environment as part of our plan, our conservative.ca/plan, that we will address emissions, lower our impact on climate change, But, we will also work with the communities, the provinces, the local governments to put steps in place so they can adapt, so they can reduce the risk of fire.”
The Liberal candidate said her party would train 1,000 new firefighters and provide funding to provinces for equipment like planes and helicopters.
“One thing that I will do is advocate for our area in order to make sure that it is our firefighters that do get trained as part of that thousand firefighters,” said Desautels.
Desautels would also like to advocate for greater wildfire mitigation around communities.
Similiarly, Gunner, the Green candidate, would like to see extensive firesmarting work done on the urban-wildland interface.
“We also need to look at the way we are replanting our forests and make sure that we are doing it as an integrated ecological forest, with hard woods as weel as soft woods, not just the monocultures we have been doing,” said Gunner.
Addressing monocultures in forests is also something NDP candidate Johnston wants to see change.
“We’ve spent decades creating a monoculture in our forests as we log multiple species and replace them with one. That’s done to try to maximize the return the next time they log. They want to just have the trees that they want there. But the lack of diversity, the lack of deciduous trees, enhances the fire seasons,” said Johnston.
“Our forest management in terms of how we’ve responded to forest fires in the past has also created a situation where there is far more deadfall and debris on the forest floor that would normally get taken care of by smaller fires…So we want to work with Indigenous partners who have been stewards of the land for time immemorial and take advantage of their knowledge and their skills and have them at the table when we decide how to move forward with our forest management.”
Delfing, the PPC candidate, does not believe that the fires were related to climate change and argues it is the bureaucratic response to fires that need to be fixed.
Delfing advocates for removing Canada from the Paris Accord on climate change and a non-binding international framework on disaster risk reduction, called the Sendai Framework, which he claims causes delays in emergency response.
“It is terrible that we are using climate crisis or climate emergency as a buzzword for this. It’s not. It’s inept, it’s inept behaviour by our government and it needs to stop and it is because of these international agreements that we are being put through this,” Delfing said.
Delfing also alleged a fire near Falkland was left to burn for three days.
The wildfire service said in July, when concerns about a delayed response to the White Rock Lake fire first surfaced, that an initial attack crew in a helicopter was deployed “moments after the fire as reported” around 4 pm on July 13.
“Crews remained on site that night and the next day. By noon on the 14th, industry equipment was working on the fire,” the BC Wildfire Service said in a statement to Global News in July.
After an eventful two years for the riding, on Monday it will be up to voters to decide who they send to Ottawa to represent them.