2017 British Columbia election: Nelson-Creston riding profile

2017 British Columbia election: Nelson-Creston riding profile

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Nelson-Creston, one of four ridings in the Kootenays — and one where the most experienced main candidate running is also the youngest.

1. To understand the politics of Nelson-Creston, one only has to look at a common bumper sticker.

"Keep Nelson weird," says NDP MLA Michelle Mungall, describing one of the sayings that has permeated the largest city in the riding, the epicentre of the quirky and fiercely independent Central Kootenay region.   

"Not only do we like being different than everyone else, but forge ahead with that difference. That's true in Nelson, that's true in Creston, that's true in Kaslo, that's true in Salmo.

"We are different, we are proud of it, and we know we want to contribute.... The Kootenay spirit of wanting to make the world a better place with our conscious actions is very very strong here." 

2. That contribution tends to manifest itself into NDP representatives.

Nelson-Creston has been a riding since the 1933 election, and for many decades was a Social Credit stronghold.

But in the late 1960s, the counterculture movement made a big impact throughout the West Kootenays, and the riding has chosen an NDP candidate in nine of the last 11 elections.

"Nelson residents practice default defiance," said Will Johnson, a reporter for the Nelson Star. The cultural history is Doukhobors and draft dodgers and war resisters.

People in Nelson and the Kootenays don't believe in a lot of things that city people might embrace — corporatism, materialism. They want to be on the fringe, they want to be progressive, different and apart."   

3. This seems like the place to note the success of the Green Party.

The Greens received 21 per cent of the vote in 2013, their best result outside Vancouver Island, averaging around 30 per cent in Nelson. Their candidate this time around is Kim Charlesworth, a former city councillor.

"Nelson is a bastion of environmentalism. People are very socially and environmentally conscious in the Kootenays, and they want to know their candidate will represent their views," said Johnson.

The Liberal candidate is Tanya Wall, a former councillor in Creston and current regional director. 

4. Despite well-known competition, this is Mungall's riding to lose. 

Mungall's predecessor, longtime NDP MLA Corky Evans, was an old-style populist politician. Mungall talks about constituents "want[ing] social justice, as well as an environmentally sustainable economy." 

But despite the change in approach — and age, as Evans retired in 2009 at the age of 61 and Mungall has yet to hit 40 — it's still very much a place where the NDP is favoured.

Unlike some places in the Interior, there aren't large resource development projects like Site C, LNG or mine expansions to spur swing voters. Two of the biggest provincial issues in Nelson are affordable housing and marijuana regulation. Four schools closures were announced last summer.

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

In a word: Nelson. The riding's largest city has long been an NDP stronghold, with the party receiving at least 50 per cent of the vote in all but two of the polling stations in 2013. It also does well in Salmo and the rural areas in the west of the riding.

6. What about the Liberals? 

The suburbs of Creston, such that they are, form the core of B.C. Liberal support in this riding, with the party winning the majority of the polling stations there in the last two elections. 

7. Almost every MLA says their riding is the best in British Columbia — but Mungall certainly argues it more vociferously than most.

"People get active in their community. You're not going to meet people who don't just volunteer at one thing. People have multiple hats they wear. People love to be here, they've chosen to be here, because it's such a special place," she says. 

"There's 84 other MLAs who think they have the best riding, but everybody here knows it really is me who has the best riding. We joke about, it sounds cliche, but it's actually just fact."