Dan Albas

Dan Albas, shown here in a 2017 file photo, will have to work hard to prevent right-of-centre voters from casting ballots in support of the People's Party on Oct. 21 if he hopes to win re-election, Courier columnist Ron Seymour says.

Predicting the winner of an election at the midpoint of the campaign is something only a fool would do.

So let me get right to it.

But before unveiling my crystal ball for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, one thing is obvious: the riding needs a new name.

It’s a mouth-breaking assemblage of 13 syllables, most of which are unnecessary. But it’s in keeping with the enduring determination of whoever it is that draws electoral boundaries not to offend even the most parochial sentiments of residents contained within those areas.

So although central Kelowna and West Kelowna account for the vast majority of the 87,000 people in the riding, the “K” word doesn’t appear in the name, because that might upset those relative few who live in Summerland, Princeton and Merritt.

The last two towns, and their sparsely populated rural ares, shouldn’t even be in the riding. There is no significant economic or social connection between them and the Okanagan; the orientation of the Nicola Valley is entirely toward Kamloops, not Kelowna.

But lines have to be drawn somewhere to achieve rough parity in the populations of ridings, and so we have a Frankenstein-like melding of demographic bits that have no business rubbing against each other. It satisfies some bureaucrat in Ottawa, I suppose, facts on the ground be darned.

Anyway, that minor rant dispensed with, on with the main event rant.

Conservative Dan Albas is the two-term incumbent, and his experience showed at an election forum Monday night in Peachland. He was polished in his speaking, comprehensive in his knowledge of the issues and concise in his presentation of party policies, even though the one-minute time limit to answers often left him and the others talking when their mics had been turned off.

But Liberal challenger Mary Ann Murphy also gave a good account of herself. As you’d expect from a longtime college-university professor, she’s a competent public speaker, and she knows her Liberal talking points. She also drew one of the biggest laughs of the night when she joked one of the reasons she’s qualified to represent Peachland in Parliament is that she was the 2019 winner of the Peach Pie competition at the town’s recent fall fair.

I’ve lost count of how many times Green candidate Robert Mellalieu has represented the party in provincial and federal elections. And Mellalieu himself is apparently tiring of being its serial candidate. After praising Albas’s work ethic, Mellalieu implored him to switch teams for the next election.

“If Dan would please run for the Greens, I could stop this,” he joked.

People’s Party of Canada candidate Allan Duncan is an interesting factor in the race, not because of who he is or what he says, but because of what he might represent. All but ignored by the national media, the party created by former Tory Maxime Bernier draws little apparent support in either national or provincial polls.

But that could change after the first, and only, full leaders’ debate next week. It wouldn’t be the first time a relatively obscure party leader has used such a televised platform to zoom higher in voters’ estimations, particularly among swaths of an electorate that might be struggling to muster much enthusiasm for either scandal-trailing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau or charisma-challenged Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

Bernier’s aspirations in this regard, however, might be undone by his heavily accented English, which makes it hard for anglophones to understand just what it is he’s saying.

But comprehensibility has never been an impediment for hard-right parties in the Okanagan, where they are always much more popular than they are in the rest of the country. The provincial Conservatives, who don’t know they’re dead everywhere else, are the Valley’s political zombies, staggering across the finish line every B.C. election with around 11% of the popular vote.

And that’s the recent political reality that might have Albas and his supporters nervous headed toward the Oct. 21 federal election. Although Albas handily won his first election in 2011, with almost 56% of all votes cast, his margin of victory narrowed considerably four years ago.

He edged Liberal Karley Scott by just 2% of the vote, 39.5% to 37.2%. Scott was a candidate with no political experience and zero public recognizability in the riding, but of course she benefited by the wave of Junior Trudeaumania that ebbed even into the Okanagan.

Political scientists say the vast majority of people decide who to vote for based on the party’s leader, not the local candidate. That’s the real but slightly discouraging truth for local candidates as they knock on doors and show up at coffee klatches attended by a handful of people.

But their determination on the campaign trail is necessary nonetheless. Particularly, probably, for Albas.

He needs to meet as many small-c conservative voters as possible and persuade them not to waste their vote on the People’s Party.

It’s a task that’ll take him into the deepest, darkest reaches of the Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola riding. Wherever those are.

Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter. Phone: 250-470-0750. Email: ron.seymour@ok.bc.ca.