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New riding pols readying for 2015 federal election

The official writ is nowhere near being dropped for the next federal election and with a new electoral district in the region not even officially being in effect until after the dissolution of Parliament on May 1, it may seem a little premature for political parties to begin campaigning. But it has begun.

With the coming re-distribution of electoral boundaries to form the new South Okanagan – West Kootenay (SOWK) district, changing not only the physical boundaries of the district but also the political landscape of the electorate, the forthcoming election campaign is not a given for any party at this point.

Since the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko announcement last fall of his intention not to run in the next federal election there has been some names raised as to a successor from his party to try to replace him and Member of Parliament for the region.

“There’s no official nomination race yet,” Said Bev Onschak, membership secretary for the NDP. “We just formed the association on March 15 and held our founding meeting for the new district. We’ve got our constitution and candidate committee but we can’t do a formal candidate search until we’ve been authorized by the federal party organization.”

At this point there are two individuals who have openly expressed their interest in running for nomination for the NDP; Christina Lake’s, Margaret Maximenko, a former director on the regional district and political activist, and Richard Canning of Penticton, a biologist, environmentalist, and author but Onischak says there are at least three others who are considering throwing their hats into the ring.

The changes to the electoral boundaries will present particular challenges for the NDP in the coming election according to Onischak.

“It’s going to be different. Geographically it’s the largest electoral area in southern B.C. and it includes Arrow Lakes/Slocan, the South Kootenay, the Boundary region of Grandforks, Greenwood, Midway, and Rock Creek, and now Penticton,” she said. “It’s winnable if the whole constituency works hard but it will be a challenge.”

The Liberal Party for SOWK had its founding meeting in early February and is now working on building a regional organization that can compete with the traditional go-to parties for the region, the NDP and Conservatives.

“It’s obviously a challenge for us,” Gordon Neish, Liberal party riding president, said from Penticton. “The riding hasn’t been strong Liberal territory but we’re hopeful that we can increase support in the riding. The Trudeau family has links in the Rossland area and that might help. But we’ve got a lot of work to do to build support and get the message out that there is an alternative to the traditional B.C. trend of switching back and forth from far left to far right.”

For the Conservative Party’s Stephen Hill, of Rossland, he’s eager to get the race going as he feels a change could be in the winds in terms of which party will represent the new district.

“I hope the voting breakdown doesn’t change from the last election,” he said. “If you look at the polls we lost by 10 points but with the boundary changes we’d be ahead by 3.5 points. I think that it’ll be very winnable as a Conservative riding.”

In addition to Hill, two other Conservatives have voiced their intention to seek the nomination; Marshall Neufeld, a Penticton realtor and former staffer for Stockwell Day, and Dick DeJong, from West Kelowna, younger brother of B.C. Liberal MLA and Minister of Finance, Mike DeJong.

“The nomination office hasn’t opened yet, we’re anticipating April 6 but a committee has been struck,” said Hill. “They have to do their due diligence, they have 14 days to do the background checks, credit checks, police checks. It’s a crazy process but they have to look for any Rob Ford-like skeletons in the closet.”

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