Editor’s note: This is the first of our South Okanagan — West Kootenay federal election candidate profiles. The profiles will run every Friday. Next week is Liberal candidate Connie Denesiuk. As part of our federal election coverage we also will have a weekly question and answer from all candidates appearing each Wednesday in the Western News.
With a newly redrawn riding, the 2015 federal election campaign is shaping up to be historical, which fits right in with South Okanagan-West Kootenay Conservative candidate Marshall Neufeld.
He doesn’t just like history, he lives in it.
“I love history in general, so it was natural for me when I was buying my house to buy a heritage house,” Neufeld said.
He’s spent a lot of hours restoring his 1956 heritage home near downtown Penticton for the past five years. Of course, time is in short supply during an election campaign.
Neufeld has been a realtor in Penticton for seven years, a business started by his grandfather in 1949. While living in Vancouver he worked at Lion’s Gate Hospital for a year in rehabilitation assistance. He then came back to Penticton to work at the Village by the Station as a recreation therapist.
“The furthest thing from politics possible,” Neufeld said.
However, politics has always been in the mix. Neufeld volunteered for the Stockwell Day campaign in 2000 while he was still in high school and hasn’t stopped.
“It’s the same desire I’ve had throughout my life which is to try to serve and help people. During that time working for Stockwell, I saw the amount of good that one MP can have in their community if they’re working really hard and listening to their constituents.”
The brand new riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay raises some new challenges with both the diversity of communities (112,000 people) and physical size.
“Whoever the MP is will have to ensure they do a lot of travelling and make sure that all the constituents throughout the riding, no matter where they live, that they feel well represented and feel connected to their member of parliament,” Neufeld said.
He’s been knocking on doors during the long campaign and finds that many people are bringing up the same issues on the federal level.
“They’re the national concerns of jobs, the economy and taxation issues,” Neufeld said. “You do hear a whole variety of questions at the doorstep, but that’s by far the most common thing.”
Airport infrastructure is another common issue brought up.
“Penticton, Castlegar, Trail, all three of them have issues with the airport,” Neufeld said.
He noted the past efforts of Stockwell Day and MLA Rick Thorpe who pushed for a four-lane highway between Penticton and Kelowna, and that he hopes to bring that same determination to airport infrastructure. The federal government has already made a promise to expand the waiting area for the Penticton Airport, but there’s more to be done Neufeld said.
“That’s still just the first step, the ticketing area is too small to have the increased number of flights that we want to have in Penticton,” Neufeld said, adding it needs a general facelift to the area as a whole. “I still think if there would be a way to achieve having a flight to Edmonton as well, I think we need to be getting that.”
Another key issue in Neufeld’s campaign is expanding markets for fruit growers. Last year, the Conservative government signed an international trade deal with China to sell B.C. cherries overseas.
“This past year is the first year that we had a crop that went over there, and according to the industry’s own numbers that’s meant a $20 million boost annually,” Neufeld said.
“That’s why I’m a believer in free trade. I think we need to continue signing more agreements that keep the interests of Canadian business and industry in mind,” he said. “If we have fruit producers who are saying that they have wasted their crop at the end of the year, we need to find them a new market. For cherries we’ve done that.”
Other fruit producers have been asking for an expansion of markets as well, according to Neufeld.
“If I’m elected I’m happy to be working with all of our fruit producers to try and find new markets and advocate to the Minister of International Trade to go and try and sign similar agreements.”