ELECTION 2015: Spotlight on Surrey-Delta ridings

ELECTION 2015: Spotlight on Surrey-Delta ridings

SOUTH SURREY-WHITE ROCK: Will the riding stay true to the Tories?

The fourth of a series: The Leader continues to shine a spotlight on candidates in each of this area’s six federal ridings: Surrey-Newton, Fleetwood-Port Kells, Surrey-Centre, Cloverdale-Langley City, South Surrey-White Rock and Delta. The stories can also be read online at surreyleader.com

South Surrey-White Rock is a new riding consisting of the Semiahmoo Peninsula portion of the previous South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale riding, thanks to reorganization of boundaries in 2013.

Although the boundaries have been redrawn numerous times, the Peninsula has long been considered a stronghold for representatives of Canada’s conservative parties (including the former Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance).

Former MP Russ Hiebert – who declined to run again after being area representative since 2004 – successfully weathered storms over being “parachuted” into the riding, a scandal over high personal expenses in 2008-2009 (highest that year for a B.C. MP and the second-highest in Canada), and discontent among long-time Conservatives in the area which came to a head in early 2011.

But it appears that a majority of voters in the area have also, latterly, voted for the party and the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – for whom Hiebert was a staunch supporter, although never chosen for a cabinet post.

The big question in the riding for the 2015 election is whether the charisma of Conservative candidate Dianne Watts will bolster the party’s appeal to local voters, or whether opponents will successfully exploit anti-Harper sentiment in the community – particularly over perceptions of federal inaction on environmental concerns –  or simply split the non-Conservative vote.

Watts is running against Judy Higginbotham (Liberal), Pixie Hobby (NDP), Larry Colero (Green party), Brian Marlatt (Progressive Canadian party) and Bonnie Hu (Libertarian).

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Candidates for South Surrey-White RockWatts, a popular former Surrey mayor, is a 23-year resident of South Surrey.

She served three terms as mayor between 2005 and 2015, establishing a record for moulding teams and building relationships with other levels of government and the private sector.

“I was on council for nine years and mayor for nine years and I think I can take that body of work and move it forward to the federal government; to make the changes we need to make to become the party of the future,” she says.

Watts says she is interested in preserving the economy and promoting employment, citing figures that show the Conservative government has created 1.9 million jobs.

Rail safety and rail relocation continue to be top local issues for her, she says, and ones she looks forward to arguing for in Ottawa.

Watts also says it is important for Canada to retain a balanced budget while being “thoughtful about investment in infrastructure.”

Among campaign promises of particular resonance to Surrey has been a Conservative pledge to cover up to $700 million of a proposed $2.1-billion Light Rail Transit network in the city – although the project would need a regional funding source to be green-lighted.

And while other candidates have denounced a door-to-door leaflet circulated by Watts campaign with the message “we will fight jihadist terrorists at home and abroad” as “fear-mongering,” Watts has said she stands by the Conservative of policy of intervention to defeat ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) forces, saying it is one of the reasons she decided to run for the party.

“Under Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper we will continue to address threats to our national security and help protect the innocent people from the violence and brutality of ISIS.”

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Liberal candidate Judy Higginbotham is a 40-year resident of the Semiahmoo Peninsula area, and was a member of Surrey council for 25 years.

Also a past provincial candidate, she bowed out of municipal politics for runs at federal office in 1988, 2004 and 2008, but returned for a run as an independent candidate for Surrey councillor in 2011.

She believes her experience gives her a strong sense of issues that resonate with local voters.

“We really are seeing some local issues emerge in this campaign,” she says. “One is seniors’ care, and there are also a lot of young families who want to move into the area but find it difficult to afford.

“It’s how to deal with middle-class families – to shift the (tax) burden from people who really need help to the top one per cent.”

She also says that providing transportation is very important to people in South Surrey and White Rock.

The Liberals are promising $125 billion for transportation over the next 10 years, with $20 billion of that earmarked specifically for public transit.

“We need to provide appropriate transportation so that people can get around; so children can get to school and seniors can get to where they need to go.”

Higginbotham says that White Rock priorities such as railroad relocation could also be included in a Liberal federal infrastructure program.

But Higginbotham says she has found that local voters have been antagonized by what she describes as Conservative “fear-mongering.”

“I’ve heard from more people who are appalled by the drop-off of (Watts’) brochure and the way it was targeted at seniors to (frighten) them, as though her party was the only one who would deal with this issue.

“All the national parties would deal with this. It’s trying to scare people with ‘wedge issues’,” she says.

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NDP candidate Pixie Hobby has been a Crescent Beach resident for 16 years.

A lawyer and passionate environmentalist, she worked on the writing and implementation of Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act during a 32-year career with the Department of Justice.

Hobby says she has been made aware that a lot of South Surrey and White Rock voters have concerns about providing proper services for seniors and veterans.

“Particularly those who are having a lot of trouble coping,” she says.

She, too, has heard a lot of negative reaction to Watts ant-terrorist campaign leaflets among visitors coming to her campaign office.

“The overriding issue is a very strong ‘anyone but Harper’ sentiment – and it’s significant that Watts is now attending a number of all-candidates meetings that she had earlier indicated she would not attend,” she says.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people, including those who previously voted Conservative, that they are looking at voting strategically this time around and that we stand the best chance of defeating the Conservatives.”

Hobby says she took the opportunity to campaign for the NDP because she has been dismayed at the “dismantling” of environmental safeguards by the Harper government.

She says the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon have refused to build coal shipping facilities with the result that “dirt coal” for Wyoming is now being transported through B.C. for shipment to China.

She says the use of such fuels must be of local as well as national concern, and that NDP proposals to “cap and trade” emissions by the worst polluters stand the best chance of discouraging such use in the long term.

“Greenhouse gases don’t respect geographical boundaries,” she says.

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The environment is naturally a concern to Green party candidate Larry Colero, who  describes himself as a “semi-retired business ethics consultant and long-time social justice and peace advocate.”

But he also says that the Green party – long described as a “one issue party” – does have one overriding issue – restoring democracy in Canada.

He has likened Conservative legislation to the “double-speak” created by George Orwell in the dystopian novel 1984, in which laws have the opposite purpose to their ostensible reason.

Colero, who ran for the Green party in the 2011 federal election, has also adopted a “contrarian” approach to his current campaigning – choosing not to place lawn signs, distribute flyers, or “interrupt dinners with door-to-door visits.”

Colero says he chose to run again for the Greens because he doesn’t trust any of the other parties to do what they say they will once in power.

“Only the Green party publishes a detailed and comprehensive policy platform between elections,” he says.

“It includes a long-standing policy that allows Green party MPs free votes in the House so they can always represent their constituents’ best interests. While others may promise it, the Green party is currently the only party in Canada to have such a policy in place.

“It is also the only Canadian party held accountable since 2001 to a global charter of core principles upheld by hundreds of Green party MPs now serving in parliaments around the world.”

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Bonnie Hu of the Libertarian Party is a recent arrival to the Semiahmoo Peninsula, growing up in Coquitlam and Vancouver after she and her family emigrated to Canada from China in 2000, when she was six years old.

Currently studying for a mortgage broker licence, the 2015 graduate in advanced  business administration from Seneca College in Ontario said she has been inspired to run for office locally by the emergence of young candidates in other Greater Vancouver ridings.

“I believe the top campaign issues in South Surrey-White Rock are the environment, property rights, and international trade,” she says.

“Specifically, there has been public concern about the expansion of coal exports to foreign countries from British Columbia’s ports – trains and ships travelling through and around Surrey and White Rock will be used in the transport of coal.”

Hu says that while the Libertarian party stands for free trade and private property rights, “a balance needs to be found between the economic benefits and job creation generated by the coal industry, and the environmental and health impacts feared by residents.”

“I believe harm and property damage as a result of pollution would be more efficiently eviscerated through the judicial system instead of government regulation,” she says.

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For Brian Marlatt, a freelance writer on science and public policy issues, this election campaign is his fourth run for the Progressive Canadian party (the others were in 2006, 2008 and 2011).

Like other party members, he is a former Progressive Conservative who feels that Stephen Harper and the current Conservative party have taken “Tory” politics far from the principles espoused by nation-builder Sir John A. Macdonald. (Marlatt’s conservative roots include being a member of the Progressive Conservative Policy Advisory Committee to the Tory BC Executive Council, focused on parliamentary and democratic reform from 1998 to 2003).

He says the Progressive Canadian party is a “party of nation-building, national vision and national unity,” and among national campaign platform issues are sustainable universal health care; affordable education; removing partisanship from Parliament and the senate; high-tech, green infrastructure renewal; and fair treatment of veterans.

As a writer of academic articles on historical natural disaster research and mitigation, Marlatt says that top local issues include the preservation of the environment.

“I believe the English Bay oil spill was a wake-up call for us on the West Coast including us, here on the Peninsula, where a coal-train spill into Boundary Bay is a real concern.”

He has also written about what he terms the “genuine threat” of human-induced global warming causing climate change, contrasting the scientific consensus and past Progressive Conservative action on the issue with what he characterizes as “Harper denials” and “the frustration of Kyoto initiatives, rather than building on them.”