Left: Mark Shmigelsky during the NDP candidates debate in Revelstoke last September.; Right: David Wilks after winning the Conservative Party nomination last weekend.

UPDATE: Candidates hit campaign trail en route to May 2 election

It was only a matter of hours since the Conservative government fell to a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons but both declared local candidates were preparing to hit the ground running Friday afternoon.

“We’re probably a week from being fully up and ready but knew it was coming so we’re ready to go,” said NDP candidate Mark Shmigelsky just before he started his last shift of work before hitting the campaign trail.

David Wilks, the Conservative Party candidate who is replacing long-time Kootenay-Columbia MP Jim Abbott, was also getting ready to hit the road on Friday, telling the Times Review he planned to kick off his campaign in Cranbrook as soon as the writ was dropped on Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to the next 36 days and I’m looking forward to representing the constituents of Kootenay-Columbia in the next Federal campaign,” he said Friday.

Meanwhile, Betty Aitchison of Kimberley, B.C., a long-time member of the local Liberal Party, announced Saturday she would be representing the party for a second time. In the 2008 election she finished last with only 7.8 per cent of the vote. In an interview she said she was still preparing for the campaign.

William Green is running for the Green Party and Brent Bush, a past candidate for the NDP, is running as an independent.

The Kootenay-Columbia riding has gone to the Conservative Party in its various incarnations since the riding was established in 1997. Abbott won convincingly each time, receiving at least 52 per cent of the vote (and as much as 67.8 per cent) in the past five elections.

While the Conservative Party is the favourite in the campaign, the NDP has hopes of wrestling the riding away from the Conservatives this time around and have won the riding in pre-Abbott times.

As to the issues, Shmigelsky, the former mayor of Invermere cited the economy and affordability as well as the Harper government’s record of secrecy and scandals – calling it the “worst government in Canadian history” on the latter issues.

“Seniors are in poverty, people that have never had a problem before are suffering through this recession,” he said. “When Harper has been given billions of dollars to corporations, he’s been giving pocket change to those that are in need.”

Wilks, the mayor of Sparwood, also cited a need to maintain a stable course on the economy and would work towards “tough-on crime” legislation and support for the military.

“We needed to continue along the recovery of our economy and keep pushing for jobs,” he said. We had a very good budget but unfortunately it never got there.”

Aitchison cited the recent contempt finding against the Conservative government as a main issue and said the Harper government conducted business that “was not the Canadian way.”

“The bullying that goes on by the present government is way more than anyone should expect from grown people,” she said.

She also said the priority should be help for seniors and families as opposed to spending billions on new fighter jets.

Wilks said Abbott will serve as a mentor over the course of the campaign and he hopes to fill his shoes as a grass roots politician.

“I believe I have the same personality as Jim. I’m very likeable, I’m approachable,” he said.

“In my role in municipal politics in the last nine years I’ve been able to work with a lot of people and get a lot of things done in the Elk Valley as well as the Regional District of the East Kootenay.”

Shmigelsky, for his part, said that if he is elected, he will represent all residents of the riding, regardless of their political affiliation.

“When you elect me as your member of parliament, you’re going to hear your voice in Ottawa,” said the former mayor of Invermere. “If you elect Mr. Wilks or anybody else, you’re going to hear Michael Ignatieff’s or Stephen Harper’s.”

Shmigelsky and Wilks are no strangers to each other, have worked together on the board of the Regional District of the East Kootenay for six years, from 2002 to 2008.

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