Federal Election 2015  

Cannings: 'on the list'

Castanet is featuring profiles on all the Okanagan candidates in the upcoming federal election.

Richard Cannings, NDP – South Okanagan - West Kootenay

New Democrat Richard Cannings, 61, is a biologist and birder making his second run at elected office, seeking to be the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

Cannings, who lives in Penticton, finished second to Liberal Dan Ashton in the 2013 provincial election. He is seeking to replace Alex Atamanenko, the NDP Member of Parliament for the former BC-Southern Interior riding.

He says that running for the first time in 2013 was “a lot outside my comfort zone,” but he enjoyed the engagement with the community enough that he was convinced to run federally.

“It’s such a privilege to be a candidate. You have the ability to walk into any meeting or knock on any door and ask people what they think,” he says. 

Cannings describes himself as “Very much a centrist. When I was young I liked Pierre Trudeau. I liked his concept of federalism. … (But) I think I’ve always voted NDP.

“I admired Jean Chretien’s commitment to the environment and the national parks. But the Liberals did a lot of cutting of federal services that have been downloaded onto the provinces and municipalities that people forget about. … There are certain parts of the Liberal ideology that I identify with, but there are others that I don’t. I’m much more comfortable in the NDP.”

He says the “myth” of the NDP as the party of over spending and big deficits is “a cross that we have to bear,” although fear of the party is gradually disappearing.

“Across the country, (NDP provincial governments) have the best record of managing economies, balancing budgets and the best employment rates.”

Cannings admits that becoming a politician was “never part of my career plan,” but before the provincial election some friends and family felt that it would be a good thing to have a biologist and ecologist involved in politics.

With the federal election on the horizon, “I guess I was on somebody’s list, and they called me up. I had a profile. I’ve written a lot of books. I grew up here, and I’ve been on CBC radio a lot. (Apparently) I matched somebody’s idea of what a candidate should look like.”

He said he made the decision to run two years ago, when the NDP was in third place in the polls and did not have any prospect of forming a government. He made the decision “because we need the voice that I would bring.” 

After earning his masters degree in biology, Cannings spent 17 years at UBC working as curator of the vertebrate museum. He taught zoology courses and was able to pursue research projects.

He muses that he might have pursued a doctorate except for the university’s lack of academic leave provisions. “Not only would I have had to quit my job, but they wouldn’t hire me back if I had a PhD because the job I had only required a masters. (But) by then I had small kids and a mortgage. …

“I taught a field ecology course. It was so wonderful to get out into the forests of the Yukon or the jungles of Equator or Costa Rica. 

“It was a very fulfilling job. I only quit it I because I wanted to raise my kids here in the Okanagan.”

He works in Penticton as a consulting biologist and has written about a dozen books, mostly on the birds, geology and natural history of British Columbia and the Okanagan.

Cannings has been an avid birder since his childhood. “I really didn’t have any choice. My father was very keen amateur naturalist. He founded the local naturalist club and started the Christmas bird count here. … He never pushed it on us, but it was just the thing we did.”

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