Cannings finds himself in new environment

NDP candidate makes a run at politics following a lifetime of work as a conservationist

After spending most of his life as a naturalist

After spending most of his life as a naturalist

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the four candidates for Penticton MLA.


Studying nature is about as far removed as one can get from the hustle and bustle of B.C. politics, yet Dick Cannings still manages a comparison between the two worlds.

“You feel like you’re making a difference,” he said of his work as a conservationist, “and that’s really why I decided to get into politics.”

Cannings, a local biologist and author, is hoping to ride his New Democratic Party’s surging popularity to victory when B.C. voters go the polls on May 14.

The 59-year-old grew up in Penticton and graduated from high school here in 1971. By 1978, he’d taken a job at the University of B.C., where he worked as a zoology instructor and curator at the school’s vertebrate museum.

In 1995, he and his wife, Margaret, moved to Naramata to raise their children. Soon after, Cannings opened an environmental consulting company, and later served on B.C.’s Environmental Appeal board and Forest Appeals Commission. He also co-founded both the Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance and the Meadowlark Nature Festival.

Although he found his work fulfilling, he was intrigued last year when the local NDP riding association asked him to consider a new job by letting his name stand for nomination, which he won in November by outpolling Summerland’s David Finnis.

Cannings said he’d been an NDP supporter for “many years,” but considers himself “more of a centrist” than a left-winger.

“I’m a social democrat in the sense that I think government does have a role to play in making sure that, especially the shared resources we have in Canada and British Columbia, are developed… in the right way,” he said.

“These are resources that belong to the people of British Columbia and we want to make sure they provide good jobs, and that those jobs provide good wages.”

While both the NDP and rival Liberals speak often of jobs, Cannings said the parties differ in how they think government should be involved.

The Liberals have been “doing it from the top down, just giving tax breaks to big corporations and things like that, and hoping that will generate jobs,” he said.

“It always sounds attractive in theory, but it hasn’t been working very well over the last few decades.”

His party, if elected, would put an emphasis on keeping resource-related work in the province and providing more skills training to make sure people are qualified for higher-paying jobs of the future.

Meanwhile, Cannings said his local priority will be getting a new ambulatory care tower built at Penticton Regional Hospital. Both the Liberal and NDP leaders have expressed support for the project, but there have been no commitments to construction timelines or funding.