In a race that was too close to call for several hours after polls closed, Conservative Dianne Watts was elected member of Parliament for South Surrey-White Rock Monday night.
While Watts took an early lead as the first of 209 polling stations were announced shortly after 7 p.m., the gulf reduced to neck-and-neck for more than two hours, with at times just hundreds of votes separating Watts from Liberal contender Judy Higginbotham.
Shortly before 10 p.m., Watts – with a 2.3 per cent lead and 90 per cent of the polls accounted for – declared victory before a crowd of about 100 supporters and media, who had gathered at Pasta Vino restaurant in Peninsula Village.
In celebrating the win, the former Surrey mayor said she will “represent this riding and I will take the issues of the people of this riding forward to Ottawa.”
“I will be their voice,” she said, naming relocation of the waterfront rail line and public safety as priorities.
Watts was the only non-Liberal to win a Surrey riding, in a vote that gives Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau a majority government over incumbent Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who resigned as leader.
Watts held on to the traditionally right-wing riding – represented for the past 11 years by Conservative MP Russ Hiebert – with 24,934 votes (44 per cent) to Higginbotham’s 23,495 (41.5 per cent). Her seat was among five for the party throughout the Lower Mainland.
Watts was to the point when asked if she’d had a backup plan in the event things had turned out differently Monday.
“I never have a Plan B,” she told Peace Arch News.
Other South Surrey-White Rock candidates finished well back, with the NDP’s Pixie Hobby claiming 5,895 votes; Green Larry Colero, 1,938 votes; Libertarian Bonnie Hu, 261; and Progressive Canadian Brian Marlatt, 108.
Higginbotham conceded what she termed a “nail-biter” race shortly after 10 p.m. after spending most of the evening at her George Street campaign office.
After it became evident that Watts had gathered too big a lead, Higginbotham told 60 supporters gathered at Sammy J’s in Morgan Crossing that while she was personally disappointed, she was elated at Liberal gains, and thankful for their hard work on her behalf.
“I wouldn’t have given up this campaign for anything,” she said. “I am so excited that we have a historic majority and that we got Canada back… tomorrow morning we’re going to get up and celebrate that we have a Liberal majority.”
Earlier in the evening, she expressed satisfaction watching Liberals establish a majority.
“Dreams can come true,” she said. “This election is not really about the economy – it’s about values. I feel like Canada is coming back home.”
Hobby conceded around 8:25 p.m., stating that she “totally accepted” the voters’ decision.
“But that doesn’t mean that we’re out of the game. No way,” Hobby told about 60 supporters at her campaign office on 152 Street. “All it means is that I don’t have to go to Ottawa and freeze my butt off.”
Hobby thanked her “powerhouse team” for running a “beautiful campaign” and said she would make sure the eventual victor represents the community.
“We’re going to keep going and make sure that we get the coal-train issue dealt with, that we ban that U.S. coal, and we’re going to make sure that track gets moved inland,” she said, prompting cheers.
In conceding, Higginbotham had kind words for two of her rival candidates.
“Larry Colero was absolutely superb in the job he did – don’t ever think that the Green party isn’t a factor in this community,” she said.
Noting Hobby’s record as an environmental lawyer, Higginbotham said she had been “an excellent NDP candidate” and that she felt Hobby had lost a lot of votes she would otherwise have had because of strategic voting in the riding.
Higginbotham acknowledged that her campaign – less than half the initial 78 days, after she came in late as a replacement for original Liberal candidate Joy Davies – could not sufficiently overcome entrenched attitudes in the area.
“We couldn’t fight the negative ads and the attack ads. We’re a fairly wealthy riding and a lot of the one per cent were worried they were going to lose money (if the Liberals were elected).
“(But) I’ve got news for you – you’re going to lose it anyway because Trudeau won.”
Higginbotham said she felt that Conservatives’ “divisive, wedge issues” had backfired in contrast to Trudeau’s “vision and integrity.”
“It simply isn’t the Canadian way – I think people firmly came to that realization. It’s obvious by this landslide that they rejected Harper.”
Liberal candidates pulled off multiple upsets locally capturing 16 ridings, including the North Shore, nearly all of Surrey and parts of the Fraser Valley, up from just two seats previously.
Conservative MP Nina Grewal, criticized for missing local debates, lost to former TransLink spokesperson and Liberal candidate Ken Hardie in Fleetwood-Port Kells.
Two NDP MPs fell in Surrey – Jinny Sims lost in Surrey-Newton to former MP Sukh Dhaliwal, who recaptured the riding for the Liberals; and Jasbir Sandhu fell in Surrey Centre to Randeep Sarai.
Nationwide, the Liberals won 184 of 338 seats; the Conservatives 99.
Provincewide, the Liberals took 17 seats and nearly 40.5 per cent of the popular vote. The NDP won 14 seats (33 per cent) of the vote, while the Conservatives got 10 seats (23.8 per cent) – down from 21. The Greens’ lone victory in B.C. – leader Elizabeth May – was also its only success nationwide.
After thanking her “dream team,” Watts acknowledged the red wave means “change is afoot,” but said she is proud of the Conservatives’ legacy – including the lowest taxes in 50 years – and that her party will hold the Liberals to their word.
“I know that there were a lot of promises made in this election and I also know that we will hold them to account,” she said.
The “silver lining” in the Conservatives’ loss is the opportunity it provides “to review what’s going on with the party,” she said.
“We need to regroup… there’s no doubt about that.”
Asked if she felt campaign material pledging to fight terrorism that was criticized by opponents as fearmongering played a role in her close finish, Watts said only that “that page has already turned.”
Asked if she would do anything differently in her campaign, Watts said she “wouldn’t change a thing.”
Voter turnout in the riding – not including those who registered on election day – was 74.44 per cent, higher than that seen in B.C. (70.4) and across Canada (68.49).
South Surrey-White Rock candidates 2015
Despite various boundary changes through the years, the riding that has contained the Semiahmoo Peninsula has for 40 years been a right-wing stronghold.
Departing MP Russ Hiebert – who announced in February 2014 that he would not seek re-election – was first elected in 2004 with 43 per cent of the vote, when the riding was South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale. In 2006, he increased his lead to 47 per cent of the vote, and in 2008 he won the riding with nearly 57 per cent of votes cast for him.
In 2011, Hiebert was re-elected for a fourth term, with 54 per cent of the vote in an election that saw a record nine candidates run in the riding.
Prior to Hiebert, the riding was named South Surrey-White Rock-Langley and was held by longtime right-wing MP Val Meredith, first elected as a member of the Reform party in 1993 when the riding was Surrey-White Rock-South Langley. Meredith re-elected in 1997 as a Reform candidate, and again in 2000 as a Canadian Alliance candidate, prior to the party transitioning into the current Conservative Party of Canada.
Going back even further, Progressive Conservative MP Benno Friesen first won in the riding of Surrey-White Rock in 1974, and served five terms in office until 1990, though the riding added North Delta to its name for middle three terms before reverting.
The last non-right-wing candidate to win election in the area was the NDP’s Barry Mather, who was last elected in 1972 in Surrey-White Rock, after he was won the first of five terms in 1962 when the New Westminster riding (established in 1872) comprised the area.
– Alex Browne, Tracy Holmes, Melissa Smalley & Jeff Nagel
Click here for the results for Surrey’s other ridings.