NDP leader begins campaign early in Penticton

President Bill Downing (right) of Structurlam Wood Products explains the workings of the company
President Bill Downing (right) of Structurlam Wood Products explains the workings of the company's Okanagan Falls plant to federal NDP leader Thomas Muclair during a tour of the facility Wednesday. Muclair also attended a special public forum that evening at the Lakeside Resort during his Okanagan tour.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Scattered among the mainly older crowd of about 200 people who gathered Wednesday night to hear federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair speak at the Penticton Lakeside Resort was a smattering of young people, including Mike Parsons.

The 22-year-old voted NDP in the last election but doesn’t consider himself a supporter: “I’m more like a free agent.”

Parsons recently moved back to his hometown of Penticton, where he works as a fabricator at Nor-Mar Industries, after spending the previous two years in Grande Prairie, Alta.

“I had to leave my home just to get the experience to work in shops around home,” he said, so any political party that’s going to get his vote needs to have a plan to increase job and training opportunities.

Parsons isn’t sure if that party will be the one led by Mulcair, because he doesn’t know enough about the NDP leader yet.

“A lot of young people don’t know him, because a lot of political parties aren’t aiming for the younger demographics anymore because we don’t vote,” Parsons said.

“I wouldn’t be voting now if it weren’t for my grandma showing me the way.”

Mulcair said he’s well-aware many young people don’t show up at the polls, and securing their support will be crucial if his party wants to form government after the next election, set for Oct. 19, 2015.

“Forty per cent of all Canadians stayed home in the last election. Sixty-five per cent of young people age 18 to 25 stayed home. That’s terrifying,” he told reporters following a tour of the Structurlam plant in Okanagan Falls before his evening session in Penticton.

To help counter that, Mulcair said, the past week alone has seen him visit four post-secondary institutions to engage with youth.

“We’ve got to get young people to understand that they’re having this massive economic, social and environmental debt dropped into their backpack by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, and that they can do something about it,” he said.

Mulcair hit the Okanagan for a three-day “pre-campaign tour,” during which he touted a six-point plan to make life more affordable for Canadians. Elements of the proposal include cutting ATM fees and working to stop alleged gasoline price fixing.

He also used his visit to Structurlam to stress the importance of job creation, particularly in the value-added manufacturing sector, although he didn’t offer any ideas for a turnaround.

“We’ve lost a whole generation of manufacturing jobs,” Mulcair said. “This factory is a great example of something that is succeeding, and that’s great to see.”

The Opposition NDP holds 12 of 36 seats in B.C. and will soon face a different political landscape in the Southern Interior, where riding boundaries will be redrawn for the next election.

Penticton will rejoin the rest of the South Okanagan in a new riding called South Okanagan-West Kootenay that will notably exclude Nelson, an NDP stronghold.

Much of the new riding is currently held by Alex Atamanenko, who will not seek re-election for the New Democrats.

Despite a Conservative bent in the Penticton area, Mulcair insisted he’s confident Atamanenko and former Kamloops MP Nelson Riis have established regional support for the NDP.

“There is a history of the party,” he said. “And I’m really encouraged by the turnout we’ve been getting.”





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