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NDP look to crack Tory dynasty

Conservatives have held riding since 1972
So far, only incumbent Conservative MP Bob Zimmer (left) and Libertarian party candidate Todd Keller (right) have their names in for the vote in Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies.

For Prince George-Peace River to go any colour but blue on election night, voters in the riding would have to pull an Alberta.  

With the writ dropped on the 42nd federal general election Aug. 1, local opposition parties—second place NDP chief among them—are hoping to make a dent against Conservative incumbent MP Bob Zimmer when residents head to the polls Oct. 19. 

If the NDP were to close the 36 per cent chasm between the parties in the riding, it would be one of the stories of the election. Voters in Peace River-Prince George, which encompasses Prince George, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and the Northern Rockies, cast their ballots in one of the safest Conservative Party strongholds in the country. Since its creation in 1968, the riding has had three MPs. For the past 43 years, they've been conservatives. 

The conventional wisdom is that Zimmer will sweep the riding as in 2011, when he won more than 62 per cent of the vote.  

So far, Zimmer is the only confirmed candidate from a major party. The NDP plan to hold a nomination meeting in the coming weeks. The Liberals have yet to name a candidate, while the Green Party has two hopefuls in the riding. Mining and oil and gas worker Todd Keller has thrown his hat in with the Libertarians.  

While a distant second in Prince George-Peace River, the local NDP managed to grow their share of the vote in the past two elections, with a modest gain of eight per cent in 2011. A poll released Friday had the NDP at 33.8 per cent nationally—three points ahead of the Conservatives and ten ahead of the Liberals.  

Riding association president Judy Fox-McGuire said several people are interested in running locally, meaning the party might take the rare step of having a nomination race in a riding that usually only produces one viable candidate. 

"If there's only one candidate, the nomination meeting will just be a campaign kickoff," she said Friday. "If there's more than that we'd actually have a nomination race. I've never seen as much interest in an election." 

Part of that interest comes from the NDP's surprise victory in Alberta earlier this year.  

"If we can get people to believe their vote really does make a difference, that's a win for us, not necessarily even winning the seat but getting people out there," Fox-McGuire said.

Progressive Conservative candidate Frank Oberle Sr. won Prince George-Peace River from Liberal incumbent Robert Borrie in 1972, beginning an uninterrupted period of conservative rule. Reform's Jay Hill won the seat in 1993 after Oberle did not run for the PC's. Hill held the seat for Reform, the Canadian Alliance and later the Conservatives, serving as government whip in Stephen Harper's minority governments and later as leader of the government in the House of Commons. 

His retirement in 2010 cleared the way for Zimmer, who won the nomination and later swept the riding with 62 per cent of the vote in 2011. 

In that election, only 18 of the region's 235 polling stations went NDP, 16 of which were west of the Rockies. In the Peace River section of the riding, the NDP's two victories were on First Nations reserves, in Moberly Lake and Kelly Lake. 

While the NDP grew its vote share by eight per cent, it came with a price tag: the party spent $38,300 versus $8,500 in the 2008 election. Zimmer spent just over $81,000. 

As for the Liberals, the party continues to be dogged by feelings of western alienation and memories of the National Energy Program. 

In 2011, Prince George lawyer and Liberal Candidate Ben Levine did not win a single electoral district, and failed to crack 100 votes at any polling station. Green Party candidate Hilary Crowley finished in third with 2,386 votes, over 300 votes more than the Liberals.