2017 British Columbia election: Parksville-Qualicum riding profile

2017 British Columbia election: Parksville-Qualicum riding profile

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Parksville-Qualicum, one of 15 ridings on Vancouver Island — and one of the few areas that hasn't been swept up in the Orange Wave.

1. Winston Churchill never actually said "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty, you have no brain," but the maxim has endured.  

Part of the reason is that exit poll after exit poll from elections in Canada and the United States show that older voters are less likely to vote for left-wing parties than younger voters.

And in British Columbia, of the 10 ridings where at least 18 per cent of the population was over 65 as of the 2011 Census, eight of them voted for the B.C. Liberals: including the oldest, Parksville-Qualicum.

2. The region has become a retirement mecca in the last 30 years.

Situated between the working-class cities of Courtenay, Nanaimo and Port Alberni, the combined population of Parksville and Qualicum Beach has gone from 3,300 in 1971 to 21,000 in 2016, justifying a riding centred around the two communities.

Its MLA, Liberal Michelle Stilwell, is quick to highlight the innovation within her riding, and the young families that both come to the mid-Island and want to stay. But she also knows the local issues that dominate discussion are a bit different.

"The Oceanside Health Centre comes to mind when I think of a big change for our community," she said, referring to the primary care centre that opened in 2013, months after she was first elected. 

"And palliative care beds at our community at Trillium Lodge has had an impact for our aging population. We have a lot of people who are at end of life, and they don't have to travel to Nanaimo ... which makes a huge difference for seniors who can't drive or don't drive anymore."  

3. The exact boundaries and MLA have switched around quite a bit the last two decades, but in that time it's always had B.C Liberal representation. 

It's been called both Nanaimo-Parksville and Parksville-Qualicum, and had Paul Reitsma, Judith Reid, Ron Cantelon, and now Stilwell as their MLA, but the riding has stayed with the Liberals since 1996.

"Although mid-Island there's this progressive reputation, associated with that is a strong populist culture ... which means the electorate aren't all that faithful to the NDP," said longtime Univeristy of Victoria political scientist Norman Ruff, explaining why Comox and Parksville-Qualicum were the only two of Island's 15 ridings to elect Liberal candidates last election. 

"I would appreciate having some extra support," said Stilwell, who has been only minister from Vancouver Island since Comox Valley MLA Don McRae stepped down from cabinet in January 2015.

"Don and I have have been that voice for the entire island, and all communities come to us with their issues and concerns and hoping we can help. It's been busy."

4.  The NDP will put resources into taking the seat — but they'll have an additional challenge this time around.

The Green Party received at least 10.8 per cent of the vote in every Vancouver Island seat they contested in 2013, but they didn't have a candidate in Parksville-Qualicum. But Glenn Sollitt, owner of Glacier View Seafoods and their 2015 federal candidate in Courtenay-Alberni, has stepped up to the plate for them this time around.

The NDP candidate is Sue Powell, a four-term Parksville councillor who has finished at the top of the polls in the last two elections.  

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

There aren't too many people on Lasqueti Island, but those that are there are big NDP fans: the party received 170 votes there in 2013, compared to just 20 for Stilwell. The NDP is also competitive in Parksville's town centre.  

6. What about the Liberals? 

It does well throughout the riding, but does best in the homes to the north of Nanoose Bay, where Liberal candidates often receive over 70 per cent of the vote.       

7. Stilwell took her time deciding whether to run for re-election. But after retiring from her acclaimed career as a Paralympian, she's hoping for a second term with a different work/life balance.   

"It's never been that something that got in the way of my job. My training was something I did early in the morning and late at night ... I'm still going to exercise, that's not going to change," she said.

"What is going to change is ... my vacation time has always been to take my race chair, and go in circles as fast as I can. Now I will just go on vacation with my family and enjoy life."