The fight for second

There’s no need for a crystal ball or tea leaves to predict who will win the federal election locally.

Since 1993, the Conservative Party, through the earlier incarnations of Reform and the Canadian Alliance, has held a lock on Okanagan-Shuswap.

And while Colin Mayes hasn’t developed the same personal loyalty that revolved around predecessor Darrel Stinson, there’s sufficient voter support to ensure him a third term May 2.

With top spot taken care of, the real mystery is who will come second?

The NDP has been able to retain runner-up status in recent years largely through its usual base of social activists and unions. Some upward movement in the polls has also come from the steady drive and down-to-earth charisma of perennial candidate Alice Brown.

But while Brown can still be found behind-the-scenes, there is a new name on the ballot — Nikki Inouye — and unfamiliarity breeds uncertainty when trying to garner public support.

It also hasn’t helped that Inouye has been back east at a work-related course for the first two weeks of the campaign. This means she hasn’t been knocking on doors, speaking to small groups or out shaking hands.

At the first forum last week, Inouye’s written responses to questions provided in advance were read out. It was impersonal and there was no sense of who Inouye is as a person. Is she passionate? Is she a good speaker? How does she carry herself?

When the format shifted to questions directly from the floor, the NDP wasn’t heard from for the rest of the evening. That provided the Green and Liberal candidates with unlimited exposure and the ability to challenge Mayes.

By the time Inouye returns, it could be too late to make a meaningful bond with voters (particularly as advance polls open this weekend).

Like the NDP, the Greens also face some challenges.

Once considered nothing more than a fringe movement, the Greens escaped the political wilderness in 2008, capturing 17.30 per cent of the vote in Okanagan-Shuswap. They were within a couple of points of overtaking the NDP and they forced the Liberals to the back of the bus.

Much of that success was directly related to Huguette Allen, a whirlwind on the hustings who was able to convey her message through the media.

But now, Greig Crockett is carrying the party banner and he’s left educating voters about himself and where he stands. Whether he has the ability to build on Allen’s gains remains to be seen.

One also has to wonder if the environment resonates with voters at a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet or they face growing waits for critical surgeries.

As for the Liberals, Janna Francis has ran before and is a known commodity. That could allow her to take advantage of the new faces  in the other parties and make some inroads.

If Francis can’t overcome the stigma of 2008’s fourth-place showing and improve her numbers, the Liberals are doomed to irrelevance locally.

Obviously a prediction of a Mayes victory will make election night anti-climactic and prove frustrating for some because Mayes comes across as woefully partisan and he personally hasn’t clicked with some constituents.

His back-to-back wins generally have more to do with the national scene and the Okanagan’s traditional small-c philosophical roots than anything else.

But instead of tuning out, voters should remain focused because there will be considerable intrigue as the opposition parties duke it out for second.

Richard Rolke is the senior reporter at The Morning Star. He writes a weekly column for the newspaper.