Riding to watch: Cowichan Valley

By Alec Lazenby June 4, 2024

Headshots of two women and two men.

Cowichan Valley is a riding to watch in the upcoming provincial election with four candidates vying to replace Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, who is running in Victoria—Beacon Hill. From left to right: Cammy Lockwood (Green), Debra Toporowski (NDP), Jon Coleman (BC United) and John Koury (Conservative). Photos provided.

The fight to replace Green Leader Sonia Furstenau as Cowichan Valley’s MLA is heating up.

Furstenau announced in February that she was moving to Victoria with her husband to be closer to their two sons and would be challenging Children and Family Development Minister Grace Lore in Victoria—Beacon Hill.

Without an incumbent, it’s an open race — and boundary changes that removed Furstenau’s Shawnigan Lake base from the riding could dampen the Greens chances of holding the seat.

Conservative candidate John Koury thinks the race is between him and the NDP’s Debra Toporowski. He believes many residents who voted Green in 2017 and 2020 will switch their support to either the NDP or the Conservatives.

A two-time CPC candidate, Koury said the writing is on the wall and that people are ready for a Conservative option.

Koury, who is also a former North Cowichan councillor, told BC Today he has not heard a peep about BC United candidate Jon Coleman so far on the doorsteps and has heard very little about the Greens.

“This is a two-party race in the Cowichan Valley, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s going to be a dead heat,” he said. “People are just sick and tired, and concerned, and worried, frankly, about the drug addiction and vagrancy and rising crime that’s seeping into the suburbs.”

The southern portion of the current Cowichan Valley riding is being shaved off into the new riding of Juan de Fuca—Malahat. Added to Cowichan Valley’s district is a portion of the current Nanaimo—North Cowichan riding held by NDP MLA Doug Routley, who is retiring.

Strong Cowichan Tribes representation in race

Toporowski sees a provincial run as the next step in a political career that started by working as an NDP constituency assistant, including for Routley. She has since served five terms as a councillor for Cowichan Tribes and is currently in her second-term as a municipal councillor for the District of North Cowichan.

“I’ve gotten great advice from Elders when I started this walk a while back and they’ve given me great advice on what I needed to do to be walking in two worlds,” said Toporowski, explaining that she is glad Indigenous people are being encouraged to run for political office, as “we were never welcomed in these places or spaces before.”

She said it is “awesome” that Coleman, who is also a Cowichan Tribes member, is running for BC United. The two have known each other since childhood.

Coleman has been a vocal opponent of the NDP’s pro-union community benefits agreement, arguing the policy has inflated the budget for the construction of a new Cowichan Hospital and made it hard for Cowichan Tribes members and companies, like his own, to work on the project.

He sees “way too many gaps” in NDP policies, and told BC Today he is worried “we are losing the valley” to illicit drug use, and a lack of housing and health care.

“My sister’s on the street suffering with that stuff and we need to focus on treatment and being able to keep them in a situation where they can’t look after themselves,” he said. “The government has handicapped these poor people on the street. [It is] keeping them in a stagnant style of life, which is not humane.”

Organic farmer runs for Greens

In Furstenau’s place, the Green Party has selected Cobble Hill organic farmer Cammy Lockwood as its candidate for Cowichan Valley.

She first met the Green leader in 2012 when Furstenau, who was a teacher at the time, took a busload of students to Lockwood’s farm for a tour. A longtime community volunteer, Lockwood said she decided to enter politics because she felt it was the “last tool that I had to be able to create change.”

Drought and water management are the biggest issues facing the region, according to the Green candidate

“As a farmer, at the top of my list is to make sure that our animals and that our vegetables have water,” she said. “It’s incredibly basic for our operations to have water and very difficult to do much farming without it.”