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As two byelections loom in B.C., one will prove more exciting than the other

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Advocates for a number of changes will be watching Tuesday's NDP budget closely, to see if the government will follow through on election promises to make life more affordable for thousands of families. Kylie Stanton reports – Feb 21, 2022

Two provincial byelections loom and while one’s outcome seems to be a foregone conclusion the other contest could produce further evidence that B.C.’s electoral map is shifting.

The byelection in Vancouver-Quilchena is set for April 30. Newly-elected B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon has to be considered a heavy favorite to win the seat to replace former party leader Andrew Wilkinson.

The B.C. Liberals have won the riding in eight consecutive elections (plus one earlier byelection), dating back to the riding’s creation for the 1991 election and the margins of victory have always been large. In 2020, Wilkinson beat his NDP counterpart by almost 6,000 votes.

However, the other byelection promises more uncertainty and drama.

Veteran B.C. Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux surprised many by recently announcing she would be resigning her seat of Surrey South at the end of this month to take a new federal posting as the country’s first Chief Accessibility Officer.

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Premier John Horgan will have six months to call a byelection once Cadieux formally resigns and you can be sure the NDP is searching for a top-notch candidate to run in a riding that is much more winnable for the party compared to Vancouver-Quilchena.

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In the past 10 years, the NDP’s voting support has increased significantly in Surrey and further Metro Vancouver suburbs. The party currently holds seven of the municipality’s nine ridings, up from the mere three it held in 2013.

Not only has the party improved its seat count, but its popular vote has been climbing in every riding, both in terms of the number of voters and the percentage of the turnout.

Which brings me to Surrey South.

In 2020, Cadieux squeezed out a victory by a margin of fewer than 1,200 votes. In the 2017 election, she won by almost 4,800 votes but in 2020 the NDP’s vote increased by almost more than 3,000 in number.

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Right next door, in the neighboring riding of Surrey-White Rock the NDP also increased its vote by almost 2,000 while the B.C. Liberal vote declined by more than 3,600 from 2017.

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The southern-most Surrey ridings were long considered areas of significant strength for the B.C. Liberals. Those days appear to be over as the demographics in the outer reaches of Metro Vancouver are changing considerably and quickly.

Young families, which tend to lean NDP at the provincial level and both the NDP and the Liberal party at the federal level, have been pushed to live in the outer suburbs, where housing is slightly more affordable.

The impact of this shift can be seen in the makeup of the current provincial electoral map. In the last election, the NDP won seats for the first time (in a general election) in places like Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack and boosted its vote in Surrey, Maple Ridge and Richmond.

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Cadieux’s sudden and unexpected departure opens the door further for the NDP to continue to consolidate its grip on much of Metro Vancouver, pushing the B.C. Liberals further and further out of the region.

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Of course, a byelection win by Falcon could give his party some badly needed momentum at a critical time. But make no mistake, winning both contests is vitally important for the B.C. Liberals as they currently hold both seats and need to shore up their presence in voter-rich urban and suburban areas.

Keith Baldrey is the chief political reporter for Global BC.

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