COLUMN: Broken Liberal promise will have lasting effect

Federal Liberals promised electoral reform during the last election campaign.

The federal Liberal government pulled the plug on electoral reform last week – and the fallout in Surrey and Delta may not be fully noticed until the next election in 2019.

Four of six local MPs commented after the about-face by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They said the reversal was disappointing, but not completely surprising, given the magnitude of the task and the lack of consensus about a new system.

Conservative MP Dianne Watts (South Surrey-White Rock) – the only non-Liberal MP locally – took the opportunity to tease her opponents, telling the Surrey Now “that was a promise they made to the voters that were voting for them. Now they’ve broken that promise.”

Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Sarai said the issue of electoral reform wasn’t a big deal in his riding. He cited affordable housing and crime as issues that came up repeatedly during the 2015 campaign. He is likely correct that it wasn’t top of mind but even if it wasn’t, there is no question the pledge helped several of the new crop of MPs in Surrey and Delta win their seats by such large margins. They did so by taking a significant portion of NDP and Green votes – and to many of those parties’ supporters, electoral reform is a big deal.

A comparison of the 2008, 2011 and 2015 results in local ridings shows the Liberals surged beyond previous high-water. Much of that surge came from taking votes away from the NDP and Green parties.

One of the best examples is in Surrey-Newton, where former MP Sukh Dhaliwal made a stunning comeback after losing his seat in 2011. In 2008, he won the seat by less than 2,500 votes, defeating Conservative Sandeep Pardher, with the NDP’s Teresa Townsley not far behind. In 2011, the race was much closer.

In 2015, Dhaliwal won with almost 56 per cent of the vote, handily defeating NDP incumbent Jinny Sims by more than 13,000 votes. It is obvious most of those votes came from NDP supporters.

In the new Cloverdale-Langley City riding, Liberal John Aldag won easily in an area where the Conservatives had been dominant for decades. Aldag won 24,617 votes (45.5 per cent), while Conservative Dean Drysdale won 18,800 votes (34.8 per cent). Aldag took votes from both NDP and Conservative supporters. While the area has seen significant demographic changes, the NDP vote clearly dropped and the Green vote plummeted. The Trudeau pledge made a difference.

Ken Hardie, who won the Fleetwood-Port Kells seat easily for the Liberals, was probably the most honest in his comments last week about the broken promise: “The average person could look at that and say ‘Yep, we broke our promise.’ What we would say in response to that is we basically couldn’t come to a consensus and we ran out of time.”

Hardie likely won’t be punished as much in 2019 for the broken promise. The Liberals did quite well in that riding in 2008 – far better than they did in most other Surrey and Delta ridings. However, the NDP took a lot of former Liberal votes in 2011, and it is possible that some Liberal votes will go back in the NDP column in 2019.

Hardie won his seat with 46.9 per cent of the vote, while incumbent Conservative MP Nina Grewal took just 29.3 per cent of the vote. Her vote total fell by more than 9,000 votes, while NDP candidate Garry Begg had 6,000 fewer votes than Nao Fernando got for the party in 2011.

The broken promise on electoral reform will be just one factor in the next election – but in this area, it could be a difference-maker.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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