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Politics

Liberals dominated Metro Vancouver’s outer suburbs in 2015. Can they hold ‘B.C.’s 905?’

Keith Baldrey talks about how gun violence in Surrey could become an important election issue.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly named the NDP candidate for Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam as Sara Norman. In fact, the candidate is Christina Growler. Global News regrets the error.

In the battle for B.C., no region may be more consequential than Metro Vancouver’s outer suburbs.

The bundle of ridings east of Burnaby Mountain and south of the Fraser account for nearly a third of B.C.’s 42 seats, and can be likened to Toronto’s “905” suburban belt, says Kirk and Co. political strategist Mike McDonald.

“People tend to be commuters. People tend to drive their cars and be concerned about gas prices. You know, a lot more working families out there,” said McDonald.  

“They’re places where the Reform Party has done well in the past. They’re places where they’ve gone NDP at times. They kind of bounce around the map a little bit. It’s actually very new that they’re voting Liberal.

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In 2015, the Liberals flipped eight of these seats, some with impressive margins. Whether or not they can hold them may determine who the next prime minister is.

Battleground Surrey

In 2015, the Liberals won four of five Surrey ridings, and stole the fifth, South Surrey-White Rock, in a 2017 byelection.

For the Conservatives, seats like South Surrey, which former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts narrowly won in 2015, are crucial to returning to power. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has used one of his handful of B.C. stops to stump in the riding.

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Conservative candidate Kerry-Lynne Findlay, a former Delta MP, is in a rematch of the 2017 byelection she lost to Liberal Gordie Hogg, a popular former mayor and MLA.

Violent crime has recently become a key issue in South Surrey in the wake of several high-profile gang murders, and Findlay is bullish on her pitch for tougher borders and mandatory minimum sentences for gang and gun crime.

But Findlay said “kitchen table issues” are the main concern.

People like the focus on the average Canadian and on families, and they like the fact that as Conservatives we are very mindful of what it takes to raise a family, the cost of that, the cost of housing,” she said.

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Federal Election 2019: Singh says $100M ‘specifically targeted’ to youth programs to curb gang violence
Federal Election 2019: Singh says $100M ‘specifically targeted’ to youth programs to curb gang violence

Findlay said Conservative plans to scrap the mortgage stress test and a proposed universal tax credit are resonating.

Along with Hogg, Findlay will face off against the NDP’s Stephen Crozier, the Greens’ Beverly (Pixie) Hobby and the PPC’s Joel Poulin.

The Tories are also working hard to bring Cloverdale-Langley City back into the fold. The Liberals won this new riding with 45 per cent of the vote in 2015, but the area voted nearly 60 per cent blue in 2011.

The Conservatives are fielding Langley-born agricultural entrepreneur Tamara Jansen against incumbent Liberal John Aldag. The NDP is running Rae Banwarie, the Greens Caelum Nutbrown, and the PPC Ian Kennedy.

Crime is top of mind in Fleetwood-Port Kells, too, where Liberal incumbent and former broadcaster and TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie says he’s hearing plenty of love for the party.

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“If we knock on on 100 doors … the average is anywhere from 45 to 65 per cent Liberal,” he said.

The riding had gone Conservative since its formation in 2004 until Hardie won in 2015 with an impressive 47 per cent of the vote.

Hardie has been running hard on federal investments in prevention programs like the Surrey Anti-Gang Family Empowerment (SAFE) Program, and noted that as public safety minister, Ralph Goodale visited the riding several times to announce hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-gang funding.

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Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension would cost significantly more than funding
Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension would cost significantly more than funding

Hardie said he’s hearing plenty about transportation concerns, too, and says his experience with TransLink means when the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain is built, he’ll be the right person to have as MP.

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to put rapid transit through community,” he said.

The Conservatives are fielding Kwantlen University political science professor and former judge Shinder Purewal, while the NDP is putting up anti-racism educator Annie Ohana. You can see the other candidates and full riding profile here.

The NDP has its sights set on two Surrey ridings.

The party finished second in Surrey Centre in 2015 — though 15 points back — and is counting on human resources professional Sarjit Saran to knock off Liberal incumbent Randeep Sarai.

The Liberals are taking the threat seriously, and have dispatched leader Justin Trudeau to the riding twice. You can see all the candidates here.

In more working-class Surrey-Newton, longtime radio broadcaster Harjit Singh Gill is hoping to harness his deep roots in the community to displace Liberal incumbent Sukh Dhaliwal.

Federal Election 2019: Scheer pledges to make mortgages longer, remove stress test for renewals
Federal Election 2019: Scheer pledges to make mortgages longer, remove stress test for renewals

Surrey-Newton was cobbled together in 2012 from three ridings, two of which have previously sent New Democrats to Ottawa, and if Jagmeet Singh’s two visits to the riding are any indication, the NDP thinks it can win it.

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But Dhaliwal has deep roots in the area, too: he served as MP for the region twice prior to winning in 2015, when he landed a whopping 55 per cent of the vote.

Gill says pocketbook issues are dominating the conversation in a community he says feels ignored.

“The [mortgage] stress test is killing them. They don’t have jobs — most of my community is in construction. Houses are stalled, and not selling for the last two years,” he said.

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“I know there may be some other issues in Ottawa, but the ground reality in Surrey-Newton is very different: their affordability, housing, all of these basic needs that are not felt.”

In a riding that’s 60 per cent South Asian, Gill said immigration issues are also top of mind, pointing to recent media reports of trucking firms exploiting foreign job seekers, and a surge of foreign students at local universities.

He tied that university seat squeeze to the riding’s public safety problems, arguing it contributes to disaffected youth hitting the streets.

The Conservatives are running Harpreet Singh, another journalist, while the Greens have nominated UBC student Rabaab Khehra and the PPC has put up Holly Verchère.

2019 Canada Election: Advance polls open
2019 Canada Election: Advance polls open

North of the Fraser

While every race in Surrey could be competitive, ridings in the northeast are where McDonald argues the Liberals’ 2015 gains could be shakiest.

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They’re all contiguous on the north side of the Fraser, they are areas that they didn’t win by much last time, and the Conservatives will be targeting them specifically, but the NDP will also be competing to take Maple Ridge and Coquitlam as well,” he said.

Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam is a key target for Conservatives, encompassing most of the district held by former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore for a decade.

Liberal incumbent Ron McKinnon won the riding by just three per cent in 2015 and will be challenged by former Harper government staffer Nicholas Insley. The NDP is fielding Christina Growler and the Greens are putting up Brad Nickason.

In Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, longtime Conservative Party activist Brad Vis will face Liberal incumbent Jati Sidhu in a rematch of the 2015 election.

Sidhu only beat Vis by about 2.5 per cent last time around, in a region that — aside from 2015 — has gone Reform or Tory for decades.

It’s also the riding where the Green Party hopes to make its biggest splash in the suburbs.

Economist and provincial Green Party founder John Kidder — newly wed to party leader Elizabeth May — is confident he can beat the party’s five per cent showing from 2015.

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In fact, he thinks he can win.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May weds on Earth Day
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May weds on Earth Day

The current numbers that we see suggests that the Conservative is well ahead. And I think that’s that’s due to the fact that he’s been campaigning for a year and a half,” he said.

“[But] we’re building momentum fast and we think we’re going to be there,” said Kidder, adding that people mistake the riding as rural and right-wing.

“It’s really become a bedroom community for Vancouver. The mayor tells me 70 percent of the working-age people in Mission every day go to Vancouver and come back.”

Kidder said residents, particularly the large local First Nation, are frustrated with the Liberals, and said many are open to the Greens’ climate change messaging.

McDonald said another race to watch will be Port Moody-Coquitlam, the only NDP-held riding in the outer suburbs.

Incumbent Fin Donelly is retiring, opening the door to a potential three-way race between the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives.

The New Democrats are running three-term Coquitlam city councillor Bonita Zarillo, the Tories are running entrepreneur and former school trustee and entrepreneur Nelly Shin, and the Liberals have put up engineer Sara Badiei.

You can see all the candidates for the riding here.

Federal Election: Scheer lays out platform, includes scrapping carbon tax
Federal Election: Scheer lays out platform, includes scrapping carbon tax

Bellweather Delta?

Delta has a 30-year history of voting Conservative and Reform, but popular cabinet minister and Paralympic swimmer Carla Qualtrough flipped it in 2015, winning nearly 50 per cent of the vote.

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“That’s another one that if we’re sitting here on Oct. 22 wondering how Andrew Scheer became prime minister, it’s probably because he won a seat like Delta,” said McDonald.

It’s no mistake that Scheer chose Delta to unveil his costed platform Friday, and pledged in B.C. last month to prioritize infrastructure projects like Delta’s Massey Crossing.

The Tories are running longtime Tsawwassen First Nation government worker Tanya Corbet against Qualtrough, while the NDP is fielding electrician Randy Anderson-Fennell. You can see all the candidates here.

However the “B.C.’s 905” breaks, McDonald said it’s likely to reflect whoever sits in 24 Sussex when the votes are counted.

“Last election the Liberals did really well out there, the dominoes all fell at the same time, and it could go the other way for them this time or they could hold it,” he said.

“The party that wins the federal election is probably going to win the most seats in that region.”