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Federal Election 2015  

A history of voting blue

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not make a campaign stop in Kelowna in his recent Thomspon-Okanagan visit but he may not need to – and here's why.

For the last 60 plus years, voters in Kelowna, minus one blip in 1968, have always voted blue.

The Conservative Party of Canada, and its predecessors before it, have strongly held the Kelowna area ridings for decades now.

Despite massive moves and changes in the federal leadership of this country, and the respective Prime Ministers heading those governments, the Kelowna area loves its Tory representative.

“The Kelowna area, and the Okanagan generally, has been a Conservative fortress,” says former UBC Okanagan political science instructor Wolfgang Depner.

“If you look at the 20th century as a benchmark, the Liberals have been the dominate party federally and on very rare occasions has the party that has success in Ottawa had success in the Kelowna region.”

The only time voters strayed from their all blue history was seen in 1968 when Liberal candidate Bruce Howard beat out four-term incumbent Progressive Conservative MP David Vaughan Pugh.

Howard won the seat with only 32.67 per cent of the votes – Pugh received 28.35 per cent.

Howard's Liberal success in Kelowna and surrounding areas may be due, in part, to the popularity of Liberal Leader Pierre Trudeau at that time.

In 1968 it appears even Kelowna, like most of the country, was on the ‘Trudeaumania’ bandwagon as the Liberal party took a majority government with Trudeau leading the way.

While federally the Liberal Party stayed in power for three more elections (until 1979 when Joe Clark's Progressive Conservative government defeated the Liberals), Kelowna voters went back to their Progressive Conservative roots the very next election.

Howard held the Kelowna riding (then called Okanagan Boundary) for four years, before he was ousted by Progressive Conservative candidate George Whittaker in the following federal election in 1972.

“Howard was the exception rather than the norm,” says Depner. “Before that and since then, the region has very reliably voted for the Conservative Party.”

Depner says there are three important explanations as to why this region tends to vote blue – geography, demographics and business.

“Traditionally western rural Canada, has voted Conservative or right of centre,” says Depner.

“The Liberals strength has historically been in Quebec and Ontario, while Western Canada has always seen itself as the poor cousin. Western alienation, western resentment – and the right of centre parties appeal to that. The sense of western grievance.”

Demographics also plays a large part in the voting practices of Okanagan and Kelowna residents.

Voters in this area typically have white, Anglo-Saxon roots and are in an older age bracket.

“They tend to be of British origin, German, Dutch origin – white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants,” says Depner. “Traditionally that group has voted for conservative parties.”

“It is also older here than the rest of Canada, it is greyer if you wish, and all those voters tend to be more conservative voters.”

The third reason, he argues, is the economics of his region.

“Farming and small businesses have predominately dominated the economy of the Kelowna region, of the Okanagan, and those two economic groups have traditionally voted for parties that are more in favour of the free market, right of centre parties.” says Depner.

While Conservative party candidates have not always won in our region in a landslide, they historically have captured on average 47 per cent of the votes.

The Conservative candidates have also seemed to grow in popularity over the last several decades. While the winning Progressive Conservative Candidate in 1962, 1963 - David Vaughan Pugh, won with 31 and 33 per cent of the votes respectively, current Conservative MP Ron Cannan took the 2008 and 2011 election with 56 and 57 per cent of the votes.

Depner points out that prior conservative strongholds like downtown Toronto (in the 1950s) changed over the years as their demographics changed with immigration, but that is unlikely to happen anytime soon in Kelowna.

“It can change, but the demographics of the region would have to change significantly,” says Depner. “You would have to have a sort of influx of people with different political values into this region before Kelowna becomes competitive again for Liberals and New Democrats.”

He says a change in voting pattern is being seen in younger voters in the Kelowna region, but they do not make up the majority of those who show up on polling day.

“Younger voters in Kelowna tend to favour left of centre, New Democrats or Liberals, but younger voters do not make up a large portion of voters in Kelowna,” says Depner. “They actually have a smaller share in Kelowna compared to other parts of the country.”

Depner is quick to point out voters in the North Okanagan and South Okanagan have historically shown a little more variety in their voting, with those ridings considered more competitive for Conservative candidates.

“It is not the Liberals though,” he points out. “It is New Democrats which represents this historical lore, the historical competition between the NDP and the Conservatives to be the voice of Western Canada.”

As for the upcoming 2015 election, Depner believes the pattern of Conservative voting in our region will continue.

“The Conservatives may not be in power come Oct. 19, but I think it would be a fair bet that the Conservatives will represent the Kelowna region.”  

While the electoral districts have changed constantly over the last 50+ years, check out the charts below for a general representation of City of Kelowna's federal voting history. 

Riding: Kelowna - Lake Country 

Year Elected Official Party Votes (%) Federal result
2015 TBD TBD TBD TBD
2011 Ron Cannan Conservative Party 57.40

C – Stephen Harper – majority government 

2008 Ron Cannan Conservative Party 55.94 C – Stephen Harper – minority government 
2006 Ron Cannan Conservative Party 49.17 C – Stephen Harper – minority government 

Riding: Kelowna 

Year Elected Official Party Votes (%) Federal result
2004

Werner Schmidt  

Conservative Party

48.00

Liberal Party – Paul Martin – minority government

2000

Werner Schmidt  

Canadian Alliance

59.47

Lib.– Jean Chretien – majority government

1997

Werner Schmidt  

Reform Party of Canada

50.01

Lib. – Jean Chretien – majority government 

Riding: Okanagan Centre 

Year Elected official Party Votes (%) Federal result 
1993

Werner Schmidt

Reform Party of Canada 46.62 Lib. – Jean Chretien – majority government 
1988

Al Horning

Progressive Conservative

37.25 

PC – Brian Mulroney – majority government

Riding: Okanagan Similkameen  

Year Elected Official Party Votes (%) Federal result
1984

Fred King

Progressive Conservative

52.21

PC – Brian Mulroney – majority government
1980

Fred King

Progressive Conservative

45.02  

Lib. – Pierre - Trudeau minority government

1979

Fred King

Progressive Conservative

49.56

PC – Joe Clark – minority government 

Riding: Okanagan Boundary  

Year Elected Official Party Votes (%) Federal result
1974

George Whittaker

Progressive Conservative

43.17

Lib. – Pierre Trudeau majority government 

1972

George Whittaker

Progressive Conservative

42.29

Lib. – Pierre Trudeau - minority government 

1968

 Bruce Howard

Liberal Party

 32.67

Lib. – Pierre Trudeau - majority government

1965

David Vaughan Pugh

Progressive Conservative

30.85

Lib. – Lester Pearson - minority government

1963

David Vaughan Pugh

Progressive Conservative

33.06

Lib. – Lester Pearson - minority government

1962

David Vaughan Pugh

Progressive Conservative

31.35

PC – John Diefenbaker – minority government

1958

David Vaughan Pugh

Progressive Conservative

48.39

PC – John Diefenbaker – majority government

1957

Frank Christian

Social Credit 

30.46

PC – John Diefenbaker - minority government

1953

Owen Jones

Co-operative Commonwealth

39.10

Lib. - Louis St-Laurent - majority government

* Numbers and historical information taken from the Parliament of Canada website. 



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