For as long as many TRU students have been following politics, Kamloops has only elected the MPs from the Conservative Party of Canada and the provincial Liberals. Both of these parties have formed government for the past decade, causing some to think this means that how Kamloops votes is a good indication of how the country will. TRU student Steve O’Reilly used a research opportunity grant to delve into Kamloops’ political history and find out if we are, in fact, a bellwether riding.
O’Reilly’s study focused on the period between 1986 and 2005, but he said that the results of the upcoming federal election could have a major effect on the final result of his research. According to O’Reilly, throughout the 1980s and ‘90s and on to today, Kamloops has always voted for the party that went on to form the provincial government, but it has not been nearly as reliable federally.
Kamloops continuously voted for Nelson Riis of the NDP throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, but they never went on to form government. O’Reilly attributed this to the NDP of the ‘80s general popularity in B.C. and activism on behalf of the province’s forestry industry. Kamloops continued to vote for Riis after the Reform Party overtook much of the NDP support in Western Canada, but O’Reilly said that this had more to do with Riis’ personality than anything else.
Some commentators have said that Kamloops reliably votes for the successful provincial party because it has balanced demographics, but O’Reilly said he takes issue with that assumption because Kamloops’ demographics do not change when it votes for unsuccessful federal parties. O’Reilly instead attributes Kamloops’ deviation from victorious federal parties in the 1980s and ‘90s to Kamloops’ support of parties, such as the NDP, that had no realistic hopes of forming government but who were “tapping into western resentment for Central Canada and Ottawa.”
Kamloops’ voting preferences changed with the unification of the Conservative Party of Canada.
“Now that the right wing vote is centralized under one party, we have become more predictable, maybe we’ve become a bellwether federally now,” O’Reilly said.
When asked about poll results which seem to show Kamloops as a two party race between the Conservatives and NDP and a national race coming down to the Liberals and Conservatives, O’Reilly said that “if the NDP wins this riding and does not win government, that likely shoots a hole in the idea that we’re now a bellwether of the federal riding.” O’Reilly went on to say that if the Conservatives won both in Kamloops and nationwide it would further cement the idea.