Election 2015: Central Okanagan NDP see bright future despite dim returns at the polls

Downcast, but not deflated, the Central Okanagan's NDP faithful say they have high hopes for what lies in their political future.

Downcast, but not deflated, the Central Okanagan’s NDP faithful say they have high hopes for what lies in their political future.

As TV moderators announced Monday night that the NDP lost 59 seats in the House of Commons from what they earned in their 2011 run for election, the candidates from Kelowna – Lake Country and Central Okanagan -Similkameen-Nicola  gathered at the Kelowna Community Theatre and trumpeted local campaign successes as fodder for future political discourse.

“I am inspired with what we started here,” said Norah Bowman, NDP candidate for Kelowna Lake Country.  “You know, we ran out of lawn signs, we tripled our donations since the last election and the, best thing of all, is we have over 150 volunteers here.”

That swell in local support has just begun, she said, pointing out that it’s simply a result in Central Okanagan residents hearing something made sense.

“They’re inspired by things that matter to us and our community… I’m speaking about affordable child care, and pharmacare and at home care for our elders,” she said. “I’m speaking about the environment, about food security, religious freedom and transgender rights —  we are going to keep speaking about those things in our community. “

As she pointed out in a Facebook post the next day, those conversations have resonance locally, because  112 women were turned away from the Kelowna Women’s Shelter because there was no room. Last year in Kelowna thousands of children and elders were clients of the Central Okanagan Food Bank, while veterans struggled to make ends meet and students had to choose between books and food.

Why that didn’t amount to more votes, however, is a mystery to Central Okanagan -Similkameen-Nicola NDP candidate Angelique Wood.

When asked for her take on Monday’s results, she said she was in absolute shock.

“When I was out door-knocking I encountered such positive feedback from voters who said they wanted change, and they would vote for me,” she said.  “So the results are absolutely surprising to see.”

While the disparity between on the ground feedback and the numbers were shocking locally, those watching from a national perspective saw a distinct pattern.

And it looks like political maneuvering across the country hit the NDP hard, causing reverberations that reached the west coast.

“My speculative hypothesis is that in Conservative ridings, Conservatives really hurt themselves with attacks on the niqab, immigration and the refugee crisis, among other things,” said Hamish Telford, a political analyst who teaches political science at the University of the Fraser Valley and has authored several books on the subject.

While it might seem that the niqab issue should have helped the NDP  gain the support of those voters put off by the political stand of the Conservatives, it did the opposite.

When NDP leader Thomas Mulcair came out in support of a woman’s right to wear whatever she chooses, Quebec voters in NDP ridings switched alliances in disapproval and the bottom fell out of his campaign.

When the rest of the country saw Quebec turn its back on the NDP, they “made an instant calculation,”  Telford surmised.

“To see the Liberals storm all the way to a majority was surprising, but I think  it was Canadians collectively decided that the Liberals were the vehicle to defeat Harper and the NDP paid the price for that,” said Telford.

“And it wasn’t that bad. They came back with 40 seats, which historically a good number for them.”

Telford said that in the days ahead there will be criticism of Mulcair, but it’s unfair.

“I think he ran a good campaign, but what really turned it was the Niqab debate,” said Telford. “Stephen Harper knocked out NDP, and that paved the way for the Liberals.”