It’s not easy being Green in the Okanagan

“Once the demographics of the Okanagan change you can see changes in electoral behaviour as well.”

The BC Green Party blossomed this election, tripling the number of seats held and doubling the popular vote across the province to roughly 16 per cent.

The party was led by Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist who, with the balance of power falling into his hands, pointed out that it was “the first ever Green-elected caucus in North America.”

Local Green candidates weren’t among those making history , but when vote tallies were announced at the election night gathering at BNA pub, nobody was worse for wear. They hadn’t campaigned with the expectation they’d become MLAs. They’d put themselves in the community to build support for a Greener future.

Alison Shaw, Green candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country, took 4,416 of an estimated 23,003 votes cast, which was a handful fewer votes than her NDP competitor.

Rainer Wilkins, Green candidate for Kelowna Mission, had 3,422 of an estimated 24,264 votes. Robert Mellalieu, the Green candidate for Kelowna West had 3,290 of 24,429 votes cast for him.

“We boosted the voter shift for Greens by three times from our vote in the last election so I am pretty thrilled about that,” said Shaw, a Lake Country resident.

Shaw said she was heartened further by how her party ran a “lean mean” campaign in keeping with Green policy not to accept corporate or union donations.

A political scientist who taught at UBC Okanagan and now writes about politics in the Saanich News said that it’s unlikely that either the NDP or Greens will make much of an impact in the near future in the Central Okanagan.

“If there’s one part of the province where BC Liberals can count on steady, unwavering support it’s the Okanagan —it’s the conservative heartland,” said Wolf Depner.

“Demography is destiny. Once the demographics of the Okanagan change you can see changes in electoral behaviour as well.”

For all the Okanagan’s many changes in industry, it’s still a very Anglo Saxon part of western Canada, with strong British, German and Dutch roots.

“These people are conservative in terms of their values,” he said.

As was made clear with the 2015 census results, it’s also an area with a high proportion of seniors—it’s the oldest census metropolitan area in B.C. and the third oldest in Canada.

And seniors, said Depner, also tend to vote conservative.

Most telling about its right leaning tendencies, however, may be the region’s economic roots.

The Central Okanagan, has never been a stronghold for unions. The driving force of its economy has historically been small to medium size businesses, and their allegiance is to parties that value less taxation and social spending.

“Think of Wacky Bennett and Bill Bennett,” he said.

“These are prototypical small business westerners and they’re from the Okanagan.”

W.A.C. Bennett, a hardware merchant from Kelowna, was B.C.’s premier for 20 years, earning votes by paving roads and building bridges. His son, Bill, followed his lead and became premier in 1979. He passed a series of laws, known as the “restraint” program, aimed at unburdening businesses from government spending on social services.

Not that much has changed since then.

“The people who voted for the SoCreds in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s … their mindset and economic background is the same as those voting for BC Liberals today,” he said.

“These are non union, small business people, who tend to care more about low taxes and limited government interference.”

The Okanagan is also home to a lot of people who make a living in the oil and gas industry, and any party that offers a green perspective won’t win them over.

Although the left leaning political parties have a small footprint in the Okanagan, other parties in B.C. show that may not always be the case.

“If you look at Victoria … at one point of time it was as Conservative and WASPy as parts of the Okanagan, but that’s not the case today,” he said. “People’s politics are vastly different than that of their parents and grandparents.”

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