Dick Cannings might be new to the political game, but he has some experienced supporters on his side.
“I am very excited to be here with Dick, not only to do some campaigning, but we are going to play some music tonight, so I am looking forward to that,” said Alex Atamanenko, who has held the B.C. Southern Interior Riding for the Federal NDP since 2006.
Atamanenko and Jim Beattie, one of the last provincial NDP members to hold a riding in the South Okanagan, joined Cannings on the campaign trail this week. Both had similar advice for Cannings, who is trying to win the Penticton riding for the NDP in the upcoming May election: be yourself.
“I think the idea is just to go out and meet people. Go to the offices, go to the stores, talk to people, let them get to know him (Cannings),” said Atamanenko. “Often as candidates or as politicians, we make the mistake, we go out and throw out all this terminology and platform. My job as a candidate is to get people to identify with me, so they can trust me. Once they have a chance to talk to him, they will realize he is sincere.”
“This is Dick’s community. He has been here for a long time and people know him. They know his work with Meadowlark festival, with his books, with his being on the radio. He is a very placid presenter of ideas and he gives you time to think about things. And I think that is going to win a lot of support,” said Beattie. “We are not interested in the highs and lows, we are interested in a vision.”
Beattie was also quick to make the point that the area hasn’t always been a stronghold for the right wing. Besides Atamanenko in the south and the Kootenays, Beattie was MLA for Okanagan Westside from 1991 to 1996, and Bill Barlee held office from 1986 to 1996.
“We have quite a history of the social democratic movement in this part of the country,” said Beattie. “I think what people are looking for is common sense. This area is not just a conservative/scored/liberal area. We have a history here of being accepted and doing a good job in leading.”
All three NDP politicians contend that far from the picture that Liberals are painting, the province was productive under the NDP government.
“The ‘90s were quite a good decade for B.C. This line has been fed to people how bad it was, but we had some of the best small business growth in Canada at that time,” said Cannings. “There were a lot of good things going on in the ‘90s and B.C. was a good place to come and work. It’s just not the case anymore,” said Cannings. “We think we can do practical things to turn things around and get this change for the better.”
Atamanenko said it wasn’t incongruous for a federal politician to be supporting a provincial politician. Unlike the conservatives, the federal NDP holds ties with their provincial counterparts and he himself tries to work with elected representatives, regardless of their political orientation.
“I work well with my provincial counterparts. I work well with Dan Ashton as a regional director. Make no mistake, this election is about getting Dick elected and our party into government,” said Atamanenko adding that he thinks it is possible to have a government that balances the interests of everyone, including corporations and the environment.
“This is very important to me that we throw these guys out now. I feel our province has stood all it can,” said Atamanenko. “Once we get Dick elected and people like him, this will send a strong message to Mr. Harper and the rest of Canada that enough is enough. We need to get a government that listens to people, that has our interests in mind first and foremost and not one like the provincial liberals who came to power and immediately gave a $1.5 billion tax cut to corporations.”