POLITICS
10/18/2019 15:10 EDT | Updated 10/18/2019 17:12 EDT

In Kelowna–Lake Country, Liberal Stephen Fuhr Aims To Prove His Surprise 2015 Win Was No Fluke

Conservatives are trying to win back what was once a centre-right fortress.

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
Stephen Fuhr, the Liberal candidate in Kelowna–Lake Country, is shown in Kelowna on July 13, 2019.

KELOWNA, B.C. — Was the Liberal win in Kelowna–Lake Country a blip, or could it be a beachhead? 

Stephen Fuhr, the Grit incumbent who won a surprise victory in 2015, is hoping to replicate his unlikely win in a riding that hadn’t seen a Liberal elected since Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister. In a longtime fortress for the centre-right — the Progressive Conservative, Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties have all elected MPs here — Fuhr’s success last election was anomaly even the Liberal party did not seem to expect.

Two days after Justin Trudeau’s historic win, Liberal communications director Kate Purchase, told an Ottawa audience: “I don’t think we could have ever anticipated winning a riding like Kelowna.”

Fuhr won the riding by a little more than 4,000 votes, six per cent of ballots cast, by capitalizing on a desire to oust Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from power and cementing himself as the option for change. He was helped by the local Green candidate, Gary Adams, who dropped out of the race and endorsed him. That move led to a Green party constitutional change preventing such alliances from forming in the future. 

This time, however, Fuhr must win the traditional Tory riding all by himself. Neither the Green candidate, Travis Ashley — a chef turned landscaper who devotes a moment of silence every day to meditate on the pending extinction of the world’s animals — nor the NDP candidate, 18-year-old recent-high-school-graduate Justin Kulik, who one day envisions becoming prime minister, are willing to help Fuhr unite progressives under the Liberal banner. 

Earlier: Stephen Fuhr’s election signs defaced. Story continues after video.

 

A HuffPost Canada summer visit to the riding suggests there is no lingering hate-on for Stephen Harper — if anything, many feel the Harper era wasn’t so bad. Trudeau’s first mandate has left many residents here unhappy with the government’s positions, and with the prime minister’s actions, in particular. 

“Why can’t he deal with Trump better?” a woman tells Fuhr as he mainstreets during Downtown Kelowna’s Block Party this July. “Why can’t he get those guys out of China? ... Apparently, we are giving China money for their infrastructure … and why can’t we send her [Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou] back or get rid of her? She’s the whole problem.”

Rosalynne Lillies and her husband, Mal, voted for Fuhr in 2015, but the duo is unlikely to repeat the feat this time. 

“Trudeau is too wishy-washy now for me,” she says. Still, she hasn’t made up her mind. 

“Who is Andrew Scheer? Yeah, that’s a big question,” Rosealynne says.

“He is against gay marriage. He’s against a whole bunch of things,” her husband chimes in.

“I know, I know,” she responds.

Fuhr interjects. “Well, I’ll try to make your choice easier by continuing to deliver for the community,” he says. He’s holding flyers he’s been distributing to residents that note he has brought more than $150 million in investments — $160 million now, he notes — to the riding.

“You’ve done a good job, but the leader’s got to go,” Mal tells him. “Sorry about that.” 

So it’s a rock and a hard place. You don’t like the leader, but unfortunately a lot of good men will go down because you’re against the leader but not your MP.Rosalynne Lillies

The Lillies have lived in Kelowna for 16 years. Like many residents here, they came from Alberta, in their case, Calgary. 

“I think Andrew Scheer will get in, whether we like him or not,” Rosalynne tells me. “... but he is a good man, Fuhr. He’s done good for our community. So it’s a rock and a hard place. You don’t like the leader, but unfortunately a lot of good men will go down because you’re against the leader but not your MP.”

Mal shakes his head. “[Trudeau]’s had too many scandals over the past two years, that’s what is hurting him. ... I wouldn’t want to see Trudeau in there for another four years.” 

Tories not taking riding for granted

Some public opinion polls suggest Conservative candidate Tracy Gray currently has the upper hand in the closely watched contest. Sources say the Liberals’ internal polling also show Fuhr may lose his seat.

But the Tories are not taking the riding for granted. An Ottawa-based staff member was sent to Kelowna months before the writ dropped to help Gray campaign. Scheer has visited the riding several times since he became leader. He spent Canada Day here — where he was heckled for his anti-abortion views, according to the local paper — and chose Kelowna as the site of a key platform announcement: the return of Harper government tax credits for children’s fitness programs, and arts and educational activities.

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
Stephen Fuhr is shown with Liberal volunteers in Kelowna on July 13, 2019.

Sitting in City Park after the meeting with the Lillies, Fuhr openly acknowledges that Trudeau isn’t popular and that the Liberals have fallen short on key points — communication and small-business tax changes, he notes. But he hopes his constituents will vote for him again based on his own record — what he’s delivered for Kelowna–Lake Country.

“I want people to focus on what we’ve achieved here in four years, which is a lot, and that’s the stuff that matters day to day. I don’t want to talk about people vilifying the PM or vilifying Andrew Scheer.” 

In addition to millions in investments to University of British Columbia Okanagan for infrastructure and grants, money for potable water, flood prevention, the rails to trails project, for housing and homelessness, summer jobs, senior centres and a new Veterans Affairs office, Fuhr has also brought tourism dollars, public visibility and the voices of his riding to decision-makers. He’s hosted the national Liberal caucus in Kelowna, twice welcomed the Liberal Pacific caucus as well as a convention of the party’s B.C. wing, organized several pre-budget consultations and ministerial visits, and a royal visit in 2016 by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate. 

During a September stop in his riding, former prime minister Jean Chrétien joked that Fuhr was “a bit expensive for Ottawa.”

“He’s an expensive MP, all of the money is coming here,” the Liberal prime minister told reporters gathered in Fuhr’s campaign office.

***

Fuhr, 50, was born in Edmonton but grew up in Kamloops, B.C. He moved to Kelowna in 2009, when he retired from the military after 20 years. The former fighter pilot came to run the family business, manufacturing and selling satellite transceivers. After it was sold in 2012, Fuhr started flying corporate jets. 

He says he was spurred to ditch his stress-free life on the road after watching Harper’s government — a government he’d voted for three times — do things he disagreed with. The party became too ideological and was forgoing science and facts, he says, when crafting social and economic policy. 

Getting rid of the long-form census and preventing government scientists from talking bothered him.

“I thought that was a dangerous place to head, so I thought I can complain about it on Facebook or I can do something about it. And I figured that there were enough progressive conservatives, in this community, that felt the same way.” 

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
Wood Lake in Lake Country, B.C. on July 13, 2019.

The riding that is now known as Kelowna–Lake Country had been won by a Liberal in 1972 and in 1947, he says. He wasn’t sure it was winnable but he thought it could be, and it was worth a try. 

“I thought the probability was low, but that probability increased as I started to do the work.”

This time, he thinks the contest will be “equally difficult but for different reasons.” 

The riding is more progressive than it was in 2015. More people, especially young families, are moving to Kelowna from Vancouver. There is a vibrant arts and culture scene, a busy airport, the tech industry is booming. “Those folks are typically NDP or Liberal, as opposed to when that flow typically came from Alberta, when that flow was Conservative.”

Battling misinformation

Fuhr is also hoping for — counting on — the People’s Party of Canada to steal a few votes away from the Tories. The PPC candidate I met in July has since dropped out of the race and been replaced by John Barr.

One of Fuhr’s biggest concerns at the moment is a new reality that he is battling: misinformation and disinformation online.

“Most of the things that people here are upset about [aren’t] true,” he says. People at the doorstep are citing things they’ve seen on social media, sources such as Alberta Proud, Ontario Proud, B.C. Proud that are percolating on Facebook.

“A big challenge for me is how do I burn through that, and, at least present the reality [so] people can make an educated choice based on the facts and reality, as opposed to spin, misinformation or lies. It’s a problem.” 

We’ve delivered very sound social and economic policies; I don’t think we’ve messaged them in the correct way.Stephen Fuhr

“Locally,” he says, “I get very little criticism about what I’ve been doing here, most of the criticism is garnered at a national Ottawa level, and a good chunk of that, most of it is based on things that people get off the Internet or partisan opinion from the opposition.”

Fuhr says he can “put out the brush fires,” but he wishes the Liberals had come out with more “effective messaging” on the things they’d accomplished in Ottawa. “We’ve delivered very sound social and economic policies; I don’t think we’ve messaged them in the correct way.” 

He speaks enthusiastically about the Liberals’ economic record — the lowest unemployment rate in 40 years, some of the best economic growth in the G7, striking trade deals with all G7 partners, putting a price on pollution. “That’s a good place to be.” 

The deficit, he says, is “modest.”

“We are the 10th biggest economy in the world. And the money that we are investing is actually pretty small in relation to our economy and there is a really [good] reason that we are investing in things so the social deficit that we’ve accumulated over a number of years of inaction ... infrastructure, that has been kicked down the can for years and years and years, that is now 50, 60, 70 years old, it has to be dealt with. 

“Meanwhile, we have the digital economy, artificial intelligence, automation which is changing everything we do, which requires big investments from the government to try to get ahead of these things.” 

He proudly states that the Liberals have taken a leadership role in housing, ponying up the resources to increase the stock of affordable houses. Housing and the opioid crisis are major local issues. “We are the ground zero per capita for the opioid crisis. 

“We also have the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada  — 3.3 per cent locally. It’s not all bad news. But those things that are challenging need to be addressed and communities, and provinces can’t do it on their own. They need federal help.” 

Although he’s full of praise for the Grits’ record, you won’t find Trudeau’s name anywhere on Fuhr’s website, campaign literature or his T-shirts. “I’m running as me. I’m my own person. I’m my own brand, I’m my own person here.”  

Federal visibility, federal resources and community work — “I’ve helped a lot of people in this community, on issues that matter to them” — are what Fuhr hopes will pull him over the top.

His community, he argues, is in a better place than it was in 2015. “The conversation I want to have [now] is how can we make it better.” 

I get very little criticism about what I’ve been doing here, most of the criticism is garnered at a national Ottawa level.Stephen Fuhr

His pitch, again this time, will be to unite progressives and not to split the vote. 

“[On] the issues that left leaners particularly care about, this Liberal government has moved the yardstick on that more than any other federal government in the history of Canada,” he says. Child poverty has been reduced by 20 per cent, the government has moved to phase out coal power, green the electrical grid, and introduced a price on carbon, he cites.

“The issues that they care about have been addressed. Have they been addressed in the way that [fits] the manner or the magnitude that they wanted? You could argue probably not, but we are certainly headed in the right direction. And I would rather have that conversation about how we can make it better, than serve up a conversation about an Andrew Scheer government, because everybody on the left of centre carved up the vote in such a way that Andrew Scheer becomes prime minister and takes us to the 1950s — which nobody wants.” 

I walk with Fuhr through the main drag in downtown Kelowna. He has a team of about 20 volunteers who’ve met in the Safeway parking lot all decked out in Liberal-red Fuhr 2019 shirts, ready to hand out Canada flags, buttons, lollipops and flyers. His partner, Anne, is there with her nine-year-old son Ty, who is as excited as any to tell people to “vote for Steve.”

As they fan out in front of him, Fuhr takes his time chatting up people along the way.

“You’ll be getting your new water pretty soon,” Fuhr says, to a couple sitting on a patio having breakfast, who’ve just told him what part of the riding they live in. 

“We already got hooked up!,” Neil Munstermann says. “We were some of the first.” 

“That’s why your shirt is so white,” Fuhr responds as everyone laughs. 

‘I think people are skeptical about the other fella’

Sitting across from Munstermann is his partner Eddie Burwash, who notes that when he worked at the hospital and had to wear white uniforms, “I used to have to come downtown and wash my clothes because in the spring time it was a mess. But now, it’s nice,” he says, stressing the last word.

“Now the water is too good to put on the lawn; we can actually drink it!,” Munstermann adds. 

After Fuhr has left, Burwash says he thinks Trudeau will “get in again.” 

“I think people are skeptical about the other fella, Andrew Scheer, for sure. At least, I am.”  

“[Fuhr]’s done a lot for the Okanagan,” he adds. 

Munstermann agrees but thinks Burwash doesn’t represent the riding’s majority.

“It’s a Conservative riding. It’s old money. It’s old values.” Still, he says, he thinks the influx of new residents might “change things up, or at least even things up a little bit. 

“And hopefully Stephen Fuhr can take the riding again. I think it would be very good if he did.”

***

I met Tracy Gray earlier on the steps of Kelowna’s city hall. She is flanked by three volunteers and a paid staffer from Tory headquarters. I was told they were taking part in a “big community engagement event,” but as we walk through the Downtown Kelowna Block Party, Gray makes little small chat with locals, and only some bikers, sitting on the patio of Blenz coffee on Bernard Street stop her to make conversation.

One of the bikers yells out that he hopes the riding will return to Tory blue.

“I hope so. Definitely,” he says. His friend pipes up: “Hard to say.”  

“Why do you say ‘hard to say’?”

“It would be nice but…,” he responds, letting it linger.

“Well, I’m working really hard every day,” Gray says. 

The first man says he was born in former Yugoslavia but immigrated to Canada from Germany. “I work from the time I show up here. Nobody helped me, nothing, but I did it on my own.” He says he “hates” that the Liberals are “donating” the public’s money to other people. I’m unclear if he means in foreign aid or to help refugees. 

“When you work hard, you should be able to get ahead,” Gray tells him. 

“I love the country, the people,” he says.

“It’s really important for us to get our vote out this year,” she adds, as one of her staff takes down the man’s information and he agrees to take a lawn sign.

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
Conservative candidate Tracy Gray is shown in Kelowna on July 13, 2019.

Gray wasn’t the Conservative party’s first choice as the candidate for this riding. But the former city councillor worked hard, door-knocked and surprised the establishment — a feat she hopes to repeat on Oct. 21.

The 49-year-old is, like many Kelowna residents, originally from Alberta. She grew up in Lethbridge and followed her boyfriend — now her husband, Larry, of 28 years — to B.C., where his family’s roots are. Her husband’s uncle was the longest serving mayor of Kelowna.

For a few years in the mid-1990s, the couple lived in Vancouver. They moved back to Kelowna when their son, Daniel, was born. Gray, who had spent most of her earlier career working in the wine industry, started a marketing company from home so she could spend more time with her child. In 2003, she founded Discover Wines. The chain of BC VQA wine stores was No. 1 in the province for 13 years, she says. In 2015, she sold the rights to her license to the Pattison Group. The B.C. government wanted to move VQA licenses to grocery stores, she says, and she feared the change in the structure of her license would make her company unsustainable in the long term as independent business.

The job was very social, and she misses it. For a while, Gray had a wine segment on Global TV. She says people still remember her from it.

 

Gray said she started thinking of throwing her hat in the ring two years ago, when Trudeau came to Kelowna for the Liberals’ national caucus in September 2017, and spoke at UBC’s Okanagan Campus.

“I thought he doesn’t even understand the questions that are being asked of him,” she says. “It really frustrated me and it started me off on this path of well, maybe I should be doing something about this.”

During the town hall, Trudeau was confronted by several physicians, one of whom wondered how she would be able to save money with the changes the Liberals’ planned to introduce to private corporations.

These business arrangements provide some financial benefits to self-employed people that are not available to salaried employees. 

While the Liberals argued that doctors and lawyers should pay their fair share of taxes, the Conservatives, backed by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, mounted a successful campaign suggesting the Liberals were calling electricians, plumbers, and corner store workers “tax cheats.” (The Liberals eventually backtracked on some of the tax planning changes they wanted to make.)

Community leaders encouraged her to run, but Gray didn’t make the decision lightly. It took her almost a year to decide. She attended the Conservatives’ national convention, met with MPs, and then decided she wouldn’t pursue another term on council.

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
View of Kelowna on July 15, 2019.

She wanted to be “really clear about why I was running,” she says.

“I know that a lot of the policies of the current government were going to be harmful to small businesses, and there were some ideologies that I just couldn’t agree with.”  

The Liberals’ message during the last election, she says, resonated with people. Open and transparent government, small short-term deficit for beneficial infrastructure projects, that made sense, she says. “But what we’ve seen play out over the past four years isn’t that.”

Gray says Canada has “incurred a lot of debt” that isn’t paid off and with thee “scandals that have happened with the current government, people are looking for an alternative.”

Gray is right. The debt isn’t paid off. In fact, the Liberals’ 2019 election platform forecasts billions more deficit spending and $31 billion added to the debt.

“The current government over the past four years has really shown people that they are not as advertised.”

Gray says she’s fighting Trudeau at the doors, not Fuhr.

“From what I’m hearing at the doors, it’s all about the policies of the party and about Justin Trudeau. … That’s where people’s focus is.” 

People want to talk about taxes, pipelines, and immigration. A lot of entrepreneurs are frustrated by the Liberal government’s policies, she says. 

A lot of the changes that have happened have not been friendly to small businesses,” she says. “Taking away income splitting … [when] one person might work extensive hours. … There should be different opportunities when you do take that risk.”

Kelowna–Lake Country has traditionally been more on the right side, she says, with people falling in line with Conservative principles that “if you work hard, you should be able to get ahead.” 

Gray says abortion has come up at the doors a few times.

“It’s just a matter of letting people know where the Conservative party stands, and you know some people have very diverse beliefs on that topic, but it’s just a matter of being very clear about where the Conservative party stands.” 

As in they are not going to reopen the issue, I ask. “Exactly, yeah.” 

 

As we walk around the downtown core, Gray says she isn’t taking anything for granted. Neither is the Conservative party. It is advertising heavily in her riding. 

“I always approach it that I’m behind, I need to earn every vote that I get … that is what I’m working towards,” she says.

Gray has had help. Several high-profile Coservative MPs and former cabinet ministers have come to lend a hand. But having spent 10 months already door-knocking for the nomination, in the dead of winter no less, Gray says she feels she has a good “pulse of the community.” 

“I’ve walked the distance to Calgary and back in just the last 4 months alone,” she later writes to me in an email. She’s optimistic.

“As my mom says, I’m very determined.”

***

“I hear people talk about Trudeau like he’s the worst person on earth,” says Kenneth Stewart, an NDP supporter who voted Liberal last time. “It’s going to be tough [for the Liberals to win], because I think there are a lot of people who are upset with all of the government.” 

Stewart says there is an “underlying Conservative attitude” in Kelowna and a “hate of the Liberals.”  

“I’m fearful for it,” he says of the election result. “[Fuhr]’s done a lot of good things here, and he needs to keep promoting it,” he adds. “People should be aware of it, but there is an underlying thing here that we don’t want Ottawa telling us [what to do].”

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
NDP candidate Justin Kulik is shown in Kelowna on July 14, 2019.

I meet Justin Kulik, the NDP candidate, at the Marmalade Cat Cafe in Kelowna’s Pandosy Village. The young man is accompanied by Maria Tokarchuk, his campaign manager and the president of the electoral district association, who can’t stop interrupting his interview.

Kulik is running in the first election in which he can vote. 

“I’m running to represent the students, not just in Kelowna–Lake Country but across Canada, and to show young people that they have a choice and they have a vote that can elect people like them,” he tells me, earnestly.

Kulik was inspired when he saw Pierre-Luc Dusseault, the NDP candidate in Sherbrooke, Que., win a seat in 2011 at age 19. He was already a devoted New Democrat after the local MP in his area, Alex Atamanenkohe grew up in Kelowna and in Rossland —visited his school when he was 10 and urged young people to get involved. Kulik convinced his parents they should put an NDP sign on their lawn. He has since convinced them both to become party members. 

His parents were cooks and used to run a restaurant in Kelowna’s Mission neighbourhood called The Laughing Moon. They moved to the Kootenays when Kulik was about six with a plan to open a new restaurant, the Lovin’ Oven. It didn’t do well, however, and closed shortly after the family moved. 

Chris Wattie / Reuters
NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault, seen during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 21, 2012, inspired Justin Kulik to run.

His parents were cooks and used to run a restaurant in Kelowna’s Mission neighbourhood called The Laughing Moon. They moved to the Kootenays when Kulik was about six with a plan to open a new restaurant, the Lovin’ Oven. It didn’t do well, however, and closed shortly after the family moved. 

Kulik says the family struggled. His mother worked two jobs. “We lost our home, we lost our business.” At one point, the family had dental or eye coverage. Kulik who wears glasses, says he never had to suffer through embarrassingly thick and large spectacles. His parents are now divorced and cooking for other people. The family moved back to Kelowna in 2015.

Kulik has always loved to debate. This fall, he’s at UBC in Vancouver to study towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science — unless he wins, of course.  

“I’m an underdog,” he says. “But everyone loves an underdog.”

Women are ‘scared’ of PM Scheer: candidate 

Voters need to be reminded why they ditched the Conservatives in 2015 and why they want to turf out the Liberals now, he says. He’s hoping to turn those former Conservative turned Liberal voters into New Democrat supporters. Recognizing the Liberals as “somehow better than the Conservatives,” he says, “I don’t think is accurate. … We need to start people voting for who they actually support.” 

People are frustrated with Trudeau’s Liberals, and their broken promises, he says. And, he’s heard from a lot of women who are, he says, “scared” of having Scheer as prime minister because of his anti-abortion views.

Kulik tells me his main issue is climate change. “In a world where people cannot live because of a changing climate, there is no point in having a strong economy.” 

But he doesn’t think more Green MPs are the solutions. “I see Elizabeth May leaving workers behind, and I think that’s the message that people need to know before they go to cast their ballots.” (That actually isn’t true, the Green and NDP platform are quite similar with plans to ensure workers can transition out of one industry and into another). He does note that May’s platform calls for reliance on Canadian oil — that he says would lead to more pipeline infrastructure.

While he easily dismisses his opponents, Kulik says he hopes for a minority government.  

“I want to see parties working together.”

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
Green party candidate Travis Ashely is shown in Lake Country on July 14, 2019.

Green Party candidate Travis Ashley used to be known as Travis Polson. The 26-year-old took his fiancée Josie’s last name in March.

Why? 

“I’m a feminist,” he tells me, as we sit outside the Tim Horton’s just off Highway 97 in Lake Country. After a long pause, he adds, “and she’s the best thing ever.” He explains that he wanted to give Josie a sense of family and belonging, so he made the name change official. “She likes it.” They are getting married next year.

Ashely used to work as a chef. Now, he makes pizzas on Fridays at a local organic winery and takes the occasional catering gig. He mostly pays the bills as a masonry artist. He likes to cook, the feeling of being connected to nature, of contributing through sustenance to the planet’s life cycle. 

Ashley had hoped to become a prominent chef and implement nutrition training in schools, like celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. But cooking is a hard job, with long hours and minimal pay. About a year and a half ago, he quit his 16-hour-a-day job at a bistro at another winery. “It just that it didn’t pay enough, much at all.” 

The hours were long, and he was missing out on seeing his son, Troy, now 2, grow up. In February, Ashley and Josie welcomed a new addition to their home, daughter Nola-Jane. He joined a landscaping company his brother was already working at, and the free time has allowed him to pursue politics. 

“Elizabeth May is really the first thing that got me excited about the Green Party, because when I was 14, when I first found out she wasn’t able to be in the federal leaders debate, I was blown away by that,” he says. “I was excited about their platform. They are the party of inclusion. We stand up for those that are kicked.” 

The Greens, he says, represent his values. “I want a fair society. I want equal parity rights for all women. I want people off the streets; I don’t want to look at them as a plague on society. They are actually people with issues and problems, and externalities.” There is nothing in the Green’s platform with which he disagrees, he says. 

Ashley says he doesn’t want to “say anything bad about any of the other parties, just want to keep it green and keep it positive,” but when asked what the difference is between the Green and the NDP, he responds: “They are good at saying stuff that they want people to hear, right? I don’t want to be part of a political group that makes promises, it can’t keep. 

“The NDP have conflicting interests when it comes to what happens with the offshore wells and legislation to protect such areas and yet [they] go forward with exporting such materials.” 

Althia Raj/HuffPost Canada
Okanagan Lake is shown on July 13, 2019.

The NDP, he says, towa big climate platform but it is not very exciting.

“I’m not trying to put them down; I’m just saying that they are just not pushing forward aggressively for positive change for all Canadians like the Green Party wants to.” 

In January, Ashley says, he called up the Green Party locally and said, “I’m ready to volunteer.  What can I do.” Their response: “Why don’t you run?”

The nomination was in May. Twelve people showed up, he says. He won 100 per cent of the ballots. 

His one motivator, Ashley says, is the “extinction crisis.”

“I have a moment of silence every day for that. It’s a really, it gets me here you know, what’s happening,” he says, his blue eyes tearing up. “I want my kids to see elephants, and whales and that awesome stuff when they are older, because a world without animals doesn’t make it worth it.” 

During his moment of silence, Ashley says, he thinks about all the animals, which have no voice. The planet is fragile and politicians have to help small businesses and workers transition to a green economy, he feels.  

Ashely says he fears a Conservative government but feels what happened in the riding in 2015 was “anti-democratic.” 

“You can’t not vote wholeheartedly with your heart. Strategic voting is a nasty business.”

Scheer is worse than Trudeau, according to Ashely, who notes that the Liberals have made some progress in their four years.

Watch: Elizabeth May tells Andrew Scheer he won’t be prime minister

  

“There has been a lot of things that he has done that are pretty awesome, but you know, letting us down on proportional representation, and not standing up 100 per cent for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, … those are some hard hitters that didn’t stand up for me, in terms of what I want to see going forward.” 

“I don’t want Andrew Scheer to get in, of course not.”

He opposes Scheer’s resource development plans, and doesn’t think “the tar sands” should be expanded or “uranium exploration” pursued either.

But he thinks he can win. At the doors, people are super excited to meet him, he says. “I’m really getting a massive Green sense from everybody. It’s awesome.”

As we walk towards his car, a kind of blue station wagon covered in hundreds of cherry pits — he parks it under a  cherry tree and the birds go at, he explains — Ashely says he thinks this is the year for the Greens. “I really do.” 

And if, I ask, it doesn’t happen?

“It would be nice in the riding if there was a coalition of the left. We could all just agree to disagree on a couple of things and then you know, in the bigger schemes we are pretty centrist here in Canada … a lot of our values align across [party] lines, even with the Conservatives. 

“They are huge about family; Greens, we are huge about families, we want to change labour laws to have more time with family. … Oh, it’s such a good question,” he says. “’cause, wouldn’t it be cool if we could work together right away.” 

It seems as though the purpose of strategic voting has just dawned on him.

“I don’t think anyone on the left wants Andrew Scheer to get in,” he tells me. “I haven’t fully accepted the Conservatives winning a majority. I just don’t think the people want it.”

This story is a part of the federal election edition of HuffPost Reports. This summer, the HuffPost Canada politics team spread out across the country to take a look at some of the ridings that could make a real difference in the outcome of this year’s campaign. Ridings To Watch is an ongoing series that looks at the people and politicians in those communities and the role they might play as Canadians head to the polls.

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