Kootenay-Columbia riding being watched, pundit says

It’s been 18 years since Revelstoke was represented Federally by a party outside the Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative Party. That was back in 1993 when Revelstoke, then part of the Kootenay West-Revelstoke riding was represented by Lyle Kristiansen, the New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for the area.

That year, Jim Gouk won the riding for the new Reform Party. In 1997, Revelstoke was made part of the Kootenay-Columbia riding and the election was won handily by popular incumbent Jim Abbott. Since then, he won four more elections, never receiving less than 50 per cent of the vote and as much as 67.8 per cent in the 2000 election.

It was as solid a riding as existed for the Conservative Party but with Abbott retiring, the riding has made it on to the radar of political junkies, said Alice Funke of the political website PunditsGuide.ca.

“Kootenay-Columbia is one of the ridings being watched across the country,” she said.

The reason, she said, is the fact there is no incumbent, meaning it’s more likely to change hands.

“It gives an opening for other parties to put forward candidates,” Funke said. “I certainly think Mr. Abbott, with his incumbency, he towered over everybody. He was quite well known, particularly in the southern part of the riding.”

She pointed out that before Abbott, the riding did go to the NDP and that provincially parts of the riding (including Revelstoke) have gone NDP.

David Coletto, the head of polling firm Abacus Data said an incumbent receives a five to 10 per cent advantage. However, he said the chances were slim the Conservatives would lose the riding.

“It’s a possiblity. It’s an Interior riding that could go NDP but I still think there’s better pick-ups for them in other parts of the province just because of the margin Jim Abbott had the last four elections,” he said. “It’s a big gap to close 15,000 votes.”

A loss for the Conservatives would signal big losses nationally for the party, said Coletto.

“If they lose Kootenay-Columbia, there’s a good chance they lose a lot more seats than that,” he said. “This would be one of those ridings to watch in terms of how much their vote swings.”

Both the Conservative Party and NDP have recruited strong candidates with years of political experience at the municipal level. Conservative candidate David Wilks was elected to Sparwood council in 2002 and has been mayor since 2005. NDP candidate Mark Shmigelsky was a councillor in Invermere from 1993-99 and mayor from 1999-2008.

“I’m keenly aware that what came before does not always predict what’s next and that’s particularly true when the Member of Parliament is retiring and new candidates are being considered,” said Funke. “A seat is much more likely to change hands if there is no incumbent.”