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Day 24: Penticton, B.C. Not all is tranquillity in sunny valley where Stockwell Day is seeking office


Friday, September 1, 2000

Deep in the Okanagan Valley are enough contradictions to sink any politician, and yet there is Stockwell Day's name on green, blue and white signs at every crossroad.

There is Mr. Day's name in front of a sleepy retirement centre and near the finish of the Canadian triathlon. It marks the entrance to towns that are as white as the polar icecap and stands next to orchards harvested by immigrant labourers.

In a place that seems wedded to the status quo, with names like Sunset Strip, Sunset Ranch and Horizon Drive, it calls for change.

And on they go, contradictions as stark as the green apple orchards that run up the side of dusty desert hills, contradictions that no one much wants to talk about, not on a spectacularly sunny day when everyone seems to be windsurfing, golfing or floating down Penticton's canal in a flotilla of rubber rings and tubes.

Today, this is not the valley of contradictions, but of content, a place with 10 hours of sunshine a day, more than Hawaii.

"A nice place to be," is how one older woman described Penticton. "Place to stay forever" is what it means in native Salish. Which is probably why Mr. Day is seeking the parliamentary seat here in a Sept. 11 by-election, and faces little opposition, not even from a pro-marijuana candidate.

In many ways, Penticton represents a certain Canadian dream, shaped as it is by a dramatic landscape of imposing hills, deep lakes and rich fields. The wealthy (but not too wealthy) and elderly (but not too elderly) come here to play and retire, to golf, sail and ski in a valley so dry it feels more like Scottsdale, Ariz., than southern British Columbia. The living is easy. The health care is free.

But if Penticton is old, it is also young. Okanagan Books Ltd., Penticton's main book store, specializes in books on gardening -- and on rapelling. On Main Street, plenty of Buicks -- and sports cars, minivans and SUVs -- pull speed boats and Sea-Doos. Last Sunday, more than 1,400 men and women, hundreds of them from abroad but many local, entered the annual triathlon, widely considered second only to Hawaii's Ironman contest.

These are the people Mr. Day will represent, a place of people sitting back and people racing forward. The good life and the better life.

But the valley, stunning in beauty and soothing in climate, is not all tranquillity. Predictably, there is deep resentment toward the provincial NDP government, as one finds almost anywhere these days in B.C., and a seething hostility toward anything from Ottawa -- except the big federal agri-research centre north of Penticton.

Those are issues. There's also intolerance.

My first ride out of Penticton was with a born-again Christian -- a handsome single father of three, a former drug addict driving a Nissan Pathfinder -- who said he can no longer tolerate a Roman Catholic prime minister who votes for abortion. Hypocritical, he called it, and downright immoral.

Next, a young man, quaffing a beer on his way to work, who is fed up with local natives. If they continue to blockade the road to a nearby ski hill, "one day, me and the boys are going to go down there with Uzis and finish the job."

These, too, are voices of the Okanagan, the sunshine valley.
John Stackhouse's Notes from the Road will appear daily in The Globe and Mail, and on, until the Labour Day weekend. His conclusions will be published later this month.

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