As rivalries go, some are bigger than others.
Coke versus Pepsi. The Canucks versus the Flames. Cain versus Abel.
But for folks in these parts, the age-old rivalry between Ashcroft and Clinton may just be the biggest rivalry of all. It’s so big, in fact, that it played out in the electoral district of Delta in the 2019 federal election, between Green Party candidate Craig DeCraene and New Democratic Party candidate Randy Anderson-Fennell.
DeCraene, 40, grew up in Ashcroft, while Anderson-Fennell, 49, grew up in Clinton. Although they call Delta home now, they both still have family in their former hometowns, and know every twist and turn of the Fraser Canyon.
“I’m not sure when the rivalry started, but I heard that even generations before me, there used to be actual fights between the two towns,” says DeCraene.
Anderson-Fennell has heard those stories, too. “I guess back in the day, that’s how things were settled. We’ve thankfully moved away from that. Craig has never thrown a punch at me,” he quips.
DeCraene and Anderson-Fennell got to know each other fairly well on the campaign trail. Once they realized the Ashcroft-Clinton connection, the Cariboo became their common ground (both agree that “common ground” is in no way a reference to Justin Trudeau’s book of the same name), and the friendly banter began.
“We talked about where all the bush parties and bonfires were happening when we were young and made jokes about ‘Cariboo time’,” says Anderson-Fennell.
He and DeCraene also share similar journeys on the path to politics. DeCraene’s parents met in 100 Mile House and had DeCraene after moving to Williams Lake, then to Ashcroft. He also has an older brother and sister-in-law in Kamloops.
Anderson-Fennell’s parents met in Barriere and had Anderson-Fennell in Williams Lake before moving to Clinton. And like DeCraene, Anderson-Fennell’s older brother and sister-in-law also live in Kamloops.
DeCraene’s parents, Willy and Germaine, still live in Ashcroft. Anderson-Fennell’s parents, Robin and Blanche, still live in Clinton, and his grandmother lives in Ashcroft.
In Delta, DeCraene ran for council and Anderson-Fennell ran for school trustee in the 2018 civic election. Both were unsuccessful, but the experience was a catalyst for their respective federal campaigns.
“The similarities are almost uncanny,” says Anderson-Fennell.
But these two are by no means identical in either political ideology or hobbies and interests. For example, DeCraene played electric guitar for a few local bands when he was younger, and even spent a few years in Calgary playing gigs with a progressive metal band called Catalyst. For his part, Anderson-Fennell is more comfortable tinkering on the mandolin alone and trying to learn a few Woody Guthrie songs, definitely not in a band or in front of a public audience. Yet they were drawn to their respective parties in similar ways.
“I decided to run for the Green Party because I identify with their core values,” says DeCraene. “I was attracted to their platform because of their climate action plan and how serious they are about dealing with that issue, and also their stance on mental health and addictions.”
As to what drew him to the NDP, Anderson-Fennell says “I was inspired by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and the party’s commitment to prioritizing affordable housing, tax reform so the rich pay their fair share, a national pharmacare plan, child care, and climate action to make life better for everyday people.”
Anderson-Fennell and DeCraene finished in third and fourth place, respectively, in the federal election. Given their many shared values and history, could there be an Anderson-Fennell/DeCraene slate in the future, thus transforming the long-running Ashcroft-Clinton rivalry into a collaboration? Neither man is ruling it out.
“I don’t feel as though I am done in the world of politics, and I would not rule out the idea of working with Randy to form a coalition for a civic slate in the next civic election,” says DeCraene.
Adds Anderson-Fennell: “There is so much more work to do and I want to be a part of it.
“Craig is a great guy, and even though our paths may be different, our destination is the same, in that we want people to be safe and healthy, and to live with dignity.”