By Steve Hubrecht
steve@columbiavalleypioneer.com

For the first week of the snap federal election, it seemed the Columbia Valley did not have a hometown candidate running in Kootenay–Columbia. By the end of the second week, the valley did: Invermere resident Sarah Bennett is running in the riding for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC).

The first four candidates to jump into the race come from other points (Creston, Cranbrook, Balfour and Revelstoke) in the geographically enormous riding, and all four were confirmed as candidates by long-established parties (Conservatives, NDP, Liberals and Greens) months before the election was called. Bennett is running with a much newer party (the PPC was formed just three years ago) and explained to the Pioneer that she’s running despite having plenty on her plate at the moment because she feels compelled to take action.

“I’m really unhappy with where the country is and where the community is,” says Bennett.

She added that “the response to COVID-19 is over the top,” pointing out that the percentage risk of death or series illness is relatively small, yet “we’ve shut down society, masked ourselves, and a year and a half later we’re still in the same place. It’s not what I want for my children. It’s not a free Canada.”

Bennett says she’s not a fan of the idea of ‘vaccine passports’ or ‘vaccine cards’ either, as these have the potential “to divide society. If it was just about getting a shot and going back to normal life, perhaps that would be different, but there is already talk about booster shots.”

She outlined that she’s heard from a good many local people who don’t want to get vaccinated and are concerned about becoming unemployed as a result. “People should not have to worry about losing their jobs over their own bodily autonomy,” says Bennett. “I think that is morally wrong.”

Bennett has been an Invermere resident for decades, growing up in Toronto, but moving west to take a job at Panorama Mountain Resort more than 20 years ago. Next came a stint travelling in Italy and France, and year working in Sydney, Australia, before she spent a few years working as a business analyst in Toronto. Eventually, though, the lure of the mountains was too much to resist, and in 2002 Bennett returned to the Columbia Valley, this time for good.

“It truly is a magical place. There is a draw here that brings people from all walks of life. I found myself here and found a sense of community, of connectedness, that was absent in big cities like Toronto,” she tells the Pioneer. 

Once here, Bennett created her own graphic design and brand development company, building her business from the ground up. “I’m self taught. I learn through the work I’ve done, and that’s been a very rewarding and a successful approach for me,” she says. Her clients include many businesses familiar to valley residents, including Inspire Floral Boutique, Winderberry and Edibles Farm+Cafe+Catering, the Kootenay Conservation Program, and the re-brand of the Bakery downtown.

“I really like taking somebody’s vision and turning [it] into something beautiful. I also like helping small businesses. That really resonates with me,” says Bennett.  

Although this election is Bennett’s first stab at federal or provincial election, she is no neophyte when it comes to politics, having served a term as Invermere councillor from 2005 to 2008. She explained that she ran for council because she was “disgruntled with decisions being made at the time. And I thought instead of just complaining, I should do something about it.” She ran for council on a platform of promoting smart growth and planned growth, rather than the ad hoc development she saw happening at the time, and residents voted her to a spot on council.

Her time in municipal government “was a good experience. It was frustrating is some respects, because I was young, eager and idealistic and I wanted to change things. But at the municipal level things move very slowly,” she said, adding that the tradeoff for the slow pace of change means that at least there is a good system of checks and balances that can prevent the wrong kind of change from happening too quickly.

When not busy campaigning or working, Bennett can be found outside playing with her kids, paddle boarding, gardening, walking or hiking in the mountains.

“I love all the outdoor things we can do here in the Columbia Valley, it’s amazing,” she says.

Books on her bedside table include The Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom, a deep dive into the societal changes wrought by the explosive rise of digital technology and Big Digital companies, and The End of America, an examination of the rise of authoritarianism south of the border.

One is a new book, the other a decade old, but Bennett sees the relevance of both today right here in Kootenay Columbia and indeed around the world.

“Any control measures brought in now (as part of the pandemic response) are not going to go away any time soon,” said Bennett, adding the reason she’s running with the PPC is that its the only party that has firmly come out against mandatory vaccinations across the board and against vaccine passports of any kind. “It’s the only party with a platform that has freedom of choice as a main tenant,” she says. “These are values I agree with.