Candidates will be covering a lot of ground in the sprawling Okanagan Coquihalla riding as they head into the final days before Monday’s federal election.
A field of six political hopefuls are looking to replace Stockwell Day, the riding’s longtime Conservative MP who announced his retirement on the eve of the election campaign.
Conservative candidate Dan Albas said the most common concern that he has heard while door knocking — often with Day by his side — revolves around jobs and the economy.
“Canada has been leading the industrialized world in economic terms following the recent global crisis and I often hear from constituents that they want their federal government to stay the course and keep working on the next phase of Canada’s Economic Action Plan,” said Albas.
“Constituents have also expressed to me their interest in seeing the federal government continue to support investments in seniors programs and health care.”
Albas said he has learned much from the “community-minded citizens” in the riding.
“That is why during this election campaign I have held a telephone town hall with over 6,500 constituents dialing in; hosted coffee stops all over the riding; door-knocked in every community; sent out direct mail to every household; published campaign calendars as to where I have been during the campaign; and have made countless phone calls to constituents responding to their questions and concerns,” he said.
Dan Bouchard of the Green Party said while the riding has many entrenched voters, he believes he and his party are beginning to redefine the electoral landscape.
“People have been telling me that they are ready for a change; that they appreciate a co-operative dialogue; and that the Green Party is looking like a great alternative to some of their traditional voting patterns,” he said.
According to Bouchard, the Green Party platform has been appealing to both young and old voters alike.
“I think that one of my major strengths is that I can help bring together the older generation with my generation to help work on some very common goals,” Bouchard said.
“I can also help provide older folks with the chance at an enduring legacy and the younger folks with a vehicle to get involved and help make a positive change.”
The New Democratic Party’s David Finnis said he is encouraged by his party’s expanding support across Canada and in B.C.
“One big issue that seems to just resonate no matter where I am is concerns over health care,” said Finnis. “I have also had questions over the rising costs of pharmaceuticals and the NDP’s proposal to try and bring in a pharmaceutical program where we can do bulk purchasing.
“The issue of home care is also a big one. People do not want to have to leave their community. They want to be able to remain in their homes as long as possible and so home care is an important issue for them.”
Finnis said people share the NDP’s platform regarding sustainable living.
“I have had people raise questions about food safety and food security,” he said. “I was talking with a young fellow in his 20s who was building a greenhouse in Merritt. He works in a grocery store and he can’t get local produce in there because it is all being shipped up from Mexico.”
Liberal candidate John Kidder said running for office has been a humbling process.
“I think the biggest thing I have learned is that the responsibilities of an individual MP come right at the heart level,” he said. “I have been studying public policy for years … but when people come up to you and say, ‘When you are my member of Parliament I need you to address my personal situation. I need you to address that I’m trying to live on $902.64 a month,’ there is a different level of responsibility that comes with that.
“It really is humbling because you say, ‘I will do my best. I will try to take these things forward. I will try to change the policies,’ but you must realize how much that sounds like rhetoric and how little that sounds like action.”
Kidder said he has been busy letting people know about the Liberal platform.
“When I talk to older people, they are concerned about health care, or for people that are poorer, about their Guaranteed Income Supplement being too small,” Kidder said. “And when I talk to young people the first thing that pops up every time is the environment. And the second thing following close behind is whether young people can find jobs here, so they can start a family and remain living here.”
Independent candidate Sean Upshaw said the people he has talked to are upset at the political process.
“The reality is that my candidacy is one born out of necessity as opposed to desire, and I want to make people aware that I want to make some changes in Ottawa to the ethical procedures that have taken place,” said Upshaw. “I have learned that there is a lot of political corruption, but what is even worse is that there is political apathy towards that corruption and that doesn’t serve Canada well.
“I hope I can be an answer to people’s frustration with politics as a whole and bring some integrity to the forefront.”
Independent candidate Dietrich Wittel said constituents are telling him that they feel like their concerns are not being heard in the election process, particularly in regards to health care.
“I have been telling people that if they vote for an independent candidate like myself, that candidate will not be bound by party policies and will have a much easier time voicing their concerns in Ottawa,” said Wittel. “I learned that people really like my agenda, which is totally different than anybody else’s and they tell me so.
“A lot of people want less government and more substance (because) they are tired of the same old, same old.”