COLUMN: A lineup of new faces

Critical role likely for MP-elect Dianne Watts in Conservative opposition.

Surrey and Delta voters chose to go a different direction Monday, with five of the six local ridings now Liberal.

Other than Sukh Dhaliwal in Surrey-Newton, who will return to Ottawa as a Liberal MP (he served from 2006-2011), all the MPs elected from the area are new to federal politics. The heavy Liberal representation from this area is a significant change. Most areas of Surrey have not been represented by a Liberal in Ottawa since 1953, while in Delta the most recent Liberal MP was last in office in 1972.

What caused this change? Voters were hungry for it, for a number of reasons.

The Conservatives’ governing style turned off many people. Changes to immigration policy, particularly in areas like family reunification, were unpopular with many. The niqab issue was disquieting to recent immigrants.

The Liberals ran a positive campaign. Justin Trudeau, who visited Surrey several times, appealed to younger voters. Strategic voting was given a high profile by the media and through several web-based campaigns.

Voter turnout was up significantly, to more than 70 per cent in B.C. In Delta, it was over 75 per cent, while in South Surrey-White Rock it was 74.4 per cent. The lowest turnout in the six local ridings was in Surrey Centre, where it was 61.27 per cent.

Many voters from Surrey’s many non-Caucasian ethnic groups went Liberal in a big way. In particular, the large Indo-Canadian vote went heavily towards the Liberals.

This is best illustrated in Surrey-Newton, where three-way races in the past four elections (in what was Newton-North Delta) changed into a Liberal rout.

Dhaliwal won 56 per cent of the vote, in a riding with a voter turnout of 68.56 per cent.

NDP incumbent Jinny Sims won just 26 per cent of the vote and Conservative Harpreet Singh had just 15.7 per cent of the vote.

This massive switch to the Liberals, who in the more distant past had good support among South Asian voters, led to Ken Hardie easily beating incumbent Conservative Nina Grewal in Fleetwood-Port Kells, and to NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu losing his seat by a wide margin to Randeep Sarai in Surrey Centre.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Liberal John Aldag beat Conservative Dean Drysdale in the new Cloverdale-Langley City seat by just under 8,000 votes. In that area of Surrey, the population has grown dramatically, particularly in Clayton. It is much more ethnically diverse that it once was. Nonetheless, historic voting patterns in both Cloverdale and Langley City have been strongly conservative for generations.

The same can be said for Delta. The Delta riding first created in 1988 was Progressive Conservative under Stan Wilbee, then Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative under John Cummins, who was MP for 18 years.

This time around, Liberal Carla Qualtrough easily beat incumbent Conservative cabinet minister Kerri-Lynne Findlay, with 49.3 per cent of the vote. Findlay had 32.7 per cent.

Perhaps almost as surprising was the narrow victory of Conservative Dianne Watts over Liberal Judy Higginbotham in South Surrey-White Rock. Watts is the popular former mayor of Surrey, used to winning 70 per cent or more of the vote. She only managed to get 44 per cent of the vote, to Higginbotham’s 41.5 per cent. The vote difference was less than 1,500 votes.

The NDP vote collapsed, and that is equally surprising. Surrey has had a strong NDP base for many years and has sent numerous NDP MPs to Ottawa since the early 1960s.

Strategic voting is likely the major reason for the steep decline in support.

What’s ahead? It is likely that there will be one cabinet minister from Surrey. Best bets would likely be Aldag, who is fluently bilingual and has many years experience working for Parks Canada, or Dhaliwal, who has previous Ottawa experience.

Watts will likely be a Conservative frontbencher in opposition, and is sure to play a significant role in an upcoming leadership contest, as leader Stephen Harper intends to resign.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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