By Steve Hubrecht
NDP candidate, Wayne Stetski, is a familiar face to Kootenay –Columbia residents. He served as the riding’s MP from 2015 and 2019, and prior to that as mayor of Cranbrook from 2011 to 2014. He also took a swing at provincial politics, campaigning but losing as an NDP candidate in the Kootenay East riding.
Add up his campaigns: running for Cranbrook mayor in 2011 and 2014. Running provincially in 2020. Running federally in 2015, 2019 and now again in 2021. That’s six election bids in the past decade.
“My whole life has been public service, and I still burn to serve. As long as that desire is there, I will continue as long as I can,” Stetski tells the Pioneer. “Specifically, I chose to run in this election, because the world’s in a difficult place, and personally I think we can either run away from our problems or run towards them, to solve them. I’m running toward them.”
Stetski’s career in public service began decades ago in interpretation for Manitoba Parks. He then worked for BC Parks, stationed on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. In 1990 a new BC Parks posting took him to the Kootenay. In 2002, he became the Ministry of Environment’s regional manger for the Kootenay, looking after parks, wildlife and fish, and ecosystems. In 2009 he switched to nonprofit work, becoming manager of the East Kootenay Conservation Program.
He retired from parks and environmental work in 2011 and jumped straight into politics. Cranbrook had been his home for two decades at that point. Stetski tells the Pioneer that his desire to get into politics came because “I saw an opportunity to help the city, by encouraging smart growth and sustainable development, rather than the ad-hoc development Cranbrook had had up until then.”
After losing his re-election bid for mayor in 2014, Stetski switched to the federal level, winning the 2015 Kootenay –Columbia election by beating then incumbent MP David Wilks.
Stetski said he adopted a nonpartisan approach during his time as MP, and is proud of having helped hundreds of people through what he terms “the maze” of federal government.
“I took a cooperative approach as MP. In four years I never heckled once,” he says. “I think that really resonated with people.” Nevertheless, Stetski lost his re-election bid in 2019, as well as his run at provincial politics in 2020.
He is upfront that his election as a left-leaning mayor in Cranbrook (a city renowned for electing right-leaning municipal council members) and his initial election as an NDP candidate in Kootenay–Columbia (a riding long deemed a Conservative stronghold) came, in part, due to vote splitting among right-of-centre electors.
“That’s the way our political systems works,” Stetski told the Pioneer, pointing out that in the 2011 Cranbrook election there were multiple right-of-centre mayoral candidates. In the 2014 municipal election, he actually managed to increase his vote numbers slightly, but his right-of-centre opponents rallied around a single candidate, who swept to power. He noted a similar pattern in the 2015 and 2019 federal elections.
“In 2015, there was a lot of concern in our riding about (then Prime Minister) Steven Harper. At the same time, the Liberals ran a really strong Kootenay Columbia candidate (Don Johnston) who managed to increase the Liberal vote share in the riding to about 19 per cent, up from a historical 6 per cent or so,” said Stetski. “In 2019, I kept my vote share almost the same as in 2015, but the Liberals’ vote share went back down to 9 per cent. That suggests there is this 10 per cent of ‘persuadable’ centre-right voters, who went back to the Conservatives in 2019.”
Neither Steven Harper nor Don Johnston will be a factor in the 2021 election, but Stetski said he’s still optimistic, pointing that some recent 338 Canada polls showed Kootenay–Columbia leaning Conservative and some showed it leaning NDP. “You never know how much faith to put in polls, but it is encouraging,” he says “The fact is Kootenay–Columbia is a two-horse race between the NDP and Conservative, so I’m calling for the support of all progressive voters.”
When not pursuing politics, Stetski spends as much time in the outdoors as possible: camping, hiking, cross-country skiing and golfing (although when it comes to golf he concedes “you basically have to double par to make my golf game a competitive one”). When the snap election was called, Stetski was in the midst of a two-week stint as a provincial park camp host, a duty he needed to cut short to jump into his campaign.
Stetski has three kids, all now grown, one granddaughter and another grandchild on the way. Aside from family time, Stetski cites reading as a favourite pastime (a trait that all four candidates share).
“So far the campaign has been great. People have been very positive as we’ve been going door to door and at farmers’ markets,” says Stetski.