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COLUMN: Surrey, White Rock and Delta ridings have pivotal role to play in federal election

Challenge for Liberals to hold onto four of six area seats, writes Frank Bucholtz

A federal election almost everyone was expecting, and almost no one wanted, is here. Once again Surrey, White Rock and Delta residents will play a pivotal role.

Prime Minister and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau called the election because he wants a majority government. While he has had an almost free reign in Ottawa since being re-elected with a minority of parliamentary seats in 2019, it isn’t enough. He covets the almost absolute power that prime ministers with a majority of seats have with Canada’s parliamentary system.

He’s taking a risk, as COVID-19 is far from over and many people feel an election is a useless diversion from critical work that the federal government should be doing. While Premier John Horgan was rewarded last October with a majority when he called a B.C. election after three years of a minority situation, Trudeau faces many more obstacles in his quest.

There are six seats in Surrey, Delta and White Rock. In 2015, when Trudeau won a majority, five of them went Liberal. The 17 B.C. seats the Liberals won that year were the most since Trudeau’s father Pierre began his 15-year reign as prime minister in 1968.

In 2019, the number of local Liberal seats went down to four, and there is no guarantee that the Liberals can hold all four this time around. The Conservatives were close in several seats, and the NDP vote total rose in 2019 after falling in 2015. In that election, two incumbent NDP MPs from Surrey were defeated.

A number of factors favour the NDP improving its vote totals this time around. Party leader Jagmeet Singh has become better known and appeals to many people. The strong NDP results in Surrey and North Delta in the provincial election last year could contribute to more NDP votes. And a third factor is the challenges facing the Green Party, which has been boosting its vote totals but was recently engaged in a civil war.

While the Conservatives do not have the strength they once had in Surrey and Delta, new leader Erin O’Toole has been making a concerted effort to become better known in this area, through telephone town halls and Zoom speaking engagements. The leaders of the three major parties will be in Surrey numerous times during the campaign – Trudeau has already been here to pour beer in Cloverdale.

If there are any “safe” seats in this year’s election, they are most likely Surrey-Newton and South Surrey-White Rock. Sukh Dhaliwal has held the Newton-area seat since 2006 with one exception – he lost to Jinny Sims of the NDP in 2011. In 2019, he won by more than 6,600 votes over NDP candidate Harjit Singh Gill.

In South Surrey-White Rock, Conservative Kerry-Lynne Findlay won the 2019 election by close to 3,000 votes, defeating Liberal incumbent Gordie Hogg. He had won a byelection in 2017, but the riding has long trended small-c conservative. The two are now engaging in their third rematch in four years.

The other three will be more competitive. Former Liberal MP John Aldag is seeking to beat Conservative Tamara Jansen in Cloverdale-Langley City again after losing his seat to her in 2019 by a bit less than 1,400 votes. Ken Hardie won Fleetwood-Port Kells in 2019 by just under 2,000 votes over Conservative Shinder Purewal, but this time around he is facing well-known former BC Liberal MLA Dave Hayer as the Conservative candidate.

Surrey Centre was pretty safe for Liberal incumbent Randeep Sarai in 2019, as he was ahead of second-place finisher Sarjit Singh Saran by just over 4,000 votes. This riding often splits three ways, and this will likely happen again. Since it was initially formed as Surrey North in 1993, it has had NDP, Reform, independent, Conservative, NDP and Liberal MPs, in that order.

Liberal Carla Qualtrough won the Delta seat in 2015, held it easily in 2019 and is likely to do so again. She won by more than 4,400 votes in 2019, after piling up a 9,000-vote margin in 2015. She is popular in the riding and, as a cabinet minister, has a higher profile.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at frankbucholtz.blogspot. com