COLUMN: Fassbender’s uphill battle

Langley City mayor running for BC Liberals in Surrey-Fleetwood

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender is taking a leap into another pond, as he spends the next three months campaigning as the BC Liberal candidate in Surrey-Fleetwood.

It will be a steep learning curve for the mayor, who has never faced any serious opposition in his runs for councillor and mayor in Langley City in the past four municipal elections. He will be running in a seat comfortably won by Jagrup Brar of the NDP in 2009.

Brar was first elected in a byelection in Surrey-Panorama in 2004, won the seat again in 2005 and won his third election when he moved to the new Surrey-Fleetwood seat. His margin of victory in 2009 was just under 2,000 votes.

The Liberals are well behind in public-opinion polls, and while that gap will likely narrow by election day, the BC Liberals have little chance of winning power again, with the Conservatives running candidates in most B.C. ridings and splitting the vote in ridings where the Liberals won by narrow margins.

Given all that, Surrey-Fleetwood is likely to stay NDP. It will be interesting to see how many votes Fassbender will gain for the Liberals. In the 2009 election, Brar gained 8,852 votes, while Liberal candidate Jagmohan Singh took 6,860 votes. Singh is well-known in the riding, as a library trustee, fundraiser for Surrey Memorial Hospital and realtor.

Christin Geall of the Greens took 1,120 votes and Chamkaur Sandhu of the Conservatives got 818 votes in the 2009 election.

Unlike Singh in 2009, Fassbender is almost unknown in Surrey-Fleetwood, other than as a regional spokesman on transportation and policing. Of the few Surrey-Fleetwood voters who have heard of him, most likely associate him with tax increases, such as the two-cent additional levy on gas that TransLink put in place last year. Recently, TransLink has talked about vehicle levies and a regional sales tax. None of these are likely vote-getters.

He is running in a riding that is very dependent on the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1, and will have to defend bridge tolls that are not popular with many voters. He will also have to defend the Liberals’ ham-fisted HST decision, which has cost the party dearly.

He has a huge uphill battle to let people know who he is, and to then come up with an issue that they are likely to think positively about. At this point in time, mark most Surrey-Fleetwood voters down as doubtful.

He is a very capable politician, and I would never underestimate him. However, I think the main reason he is running is to give the party a boost provincially, rather than to win the seat in Fleetwood. His candidacy is a shot in the arm for the beleaguered Liberals, who have not had a good 2013 thus far.

Even in Surrey, the party has had troubles with candidates. Sukh Dhaliwal had to withdraw as candidate in Surrey-Panorama two weeks ago, due to an ongoing issue with income tax involving one of his companies.

Dhaliwal was on hand Friday at Fassbender’s announcement, and told me he expects to have his income tax issues sorted out very soon. He plans to work for the re-election of the BC Liberals.

It’s not clear why Fassbender decided to run in Surrey-Fleetwood. If he was was itching to run in a Surrey seat (there are no Langley ones available), either Surrey-Panorama or Surrey-Tynehead would be better choices. Both are currently held by Liberal MLAs.

In Surrey-Tynehead, popular MLA Dave Hayer would have been more than happy to assist a new candidate and would have provided welcome introductions to supporters and potential supporters. In Panorama, Stephanie Cadieux, who is moving to the Surrey-Cloverdale riding, could have done the same thing.

Fassbender will certainly raise his profile in Surrey and may well have some influence on BC Liberal policies on transit and transportation, but it seems very unlikely that he will be a Surrey MLA on May 15.

It is more likely he will continue to head up the City of Langley as mayor.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.