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Too close to call

Four veteran Kamloops journalists look ahead to an interesting contest in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo.

With several pre-election polls expecting the October 21st federal election to be a horse race between the Liberals and Conservatives, one particular riding in the B.C. Interior is attracting interest as campaign season heats up.

“When I first heard that Terry Lake was going to run as a Liberal, I thought to myself – right candidate, wrong party,” says Kamloops news veteran Jim Harrison.

Lake’s decision to attempt a political comeback under the Liberal banner after eight years in provincial politics where he was a senior cabinet minister in B.C.’s Liberal/Conservative coalition government raised Harrison’s eyebrows.

Harrison points out that Liberals have never fared well in the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding – apart from Len Marchand who made history in 1968 as Canada’s first-ever First Nations MP, and who would later make history again with his appointment to Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet in 1976.

Since 1979, when Joe Clark’s Conservatives formed a brief minority government, support for Liberals in the Kamloops region had steadily declined to also-ran status. That changed in the 2015 election, as the Liberals were a strong third in the riding, losing by just over 3,000 votes to Conservative incumbent Cathy McLeod, who successfully fought off another wave of Trudeaumania.

However, the October 21st election is raising new possibilities. In Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, the New Democrats appear in apparent disarray following the sudden resignation of their candidate, Gina Myhill-Jones. While the NDP finished second just four years ago, several pundits have speculated that they could actually poll as low as fourth.

“This is definitely a two-person race,” contends another seasoned journalist Mel Rothenburger, the former editor of the Kamloops Daily News who contends the big question is how many NDP votes could swing to the Liberals or Green Party.

Traditional thinking suggests Lake and the Liberals could benefit from a weak NDP showing, but Rothenburger argues McLeod remains in the driver’s seat.

No stranger to the rigors of politics, having served six years as Kamloops mayor, Rothenburger senses that depending on how the campaign unfolds, the Conservatives should still be seen as the favorites; they too stand to benefit from a potential NDP vote collapse.

While Kamloops This Week editor Christopher Foulds fully agrees that the New Democrats appear to be in trouble in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, he expects the Green Party to be a factor on voting day.

“I don’t think he is going to win, but I do believe support for Green Party candidate Iain Currie will be a major factor when it comes to determining the election day outcome,” says Foulds.

Foulds also believes incumbent McLeod is more vulnerable than ever:

“She only won last time because the anyone-but-Conservative groups couldn’t figure out who to vote for.”

While Foulds has a hunch Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will return to power with either majority or minority control, he also speculates that if Lake emerges victorious, he would likely be seriously considered for a cabinet post:

“I think it makes sense. The Prime Minister doesn’t often come twice in four months to massage a candidate without having something else ready for him.”

For the record, Harrison disagrees that Green Party support could be on the rise in the Kamloops region.

“They stand for everything this riding does not,” says Harrison, citing strong regional support for the planned TransMountain pipeline expansion.

Harrison also acknowledges Lake’s apparent ability to read political tea leaves as he did prior to the 2017 B.C. election:

“Maybe he knows something we can’t see because he isn’t usually inclined to jump on a sinking ship.”

“But take my view with a grain of salt,” reminds Harrison, who admits he’s been wrong before. Harrison chuckles as he recalls that after Nelson Riis won the Kamloops area riding for the federal NDP in 1980, he wrote an editorial suggesting Riis would be a “one term wonder.” Riis went on to represent the riding for the next 20 years.

Harrison, Rothenburger, and Foulds know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two over the years, they all agree: as this federal election campaign gets officially underway, the race in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo is “too close to call.”

As always, I welcome your comments and criticism on Twitter @kammornanchor and email [email protected].

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary. 


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