COLUMN: South Surrey-White Rock byelection important not only for voters

Vote for MP to replace Dianne Watts set for Dec. 11

As if a dramatic provincial election campaign in May wasn’t enough, voters in the federal riding of South Surrey-White Rock will get another chance to cast ballots before the year is up.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Sunday that a federal byelection will be held Dec. 11 in the seat vacated by Conservative MP and former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts.

Watts served for less than two years in Ottawa. Elected in October 2015 as the lone Conservative MP in Surrey, she likely found it hard to get much accomplished in Ottawa. She was part of an opposition caucus and, as is the case with most B.C. MPs, her influence was minimal.

When the BC Liberal leadership came open after the resignation of Christy Clark, it was an opportunity for Watts to get out of town for good. She announced her candidacy in September and is currently in the midst of the leadership campaign, competing against six other entrants, including another former Surrey Conservative MP, Gurmant Grewal, who entered the race on Oct. 26.

The South Surrey-White Rock byelection should be extremely interesting. The 2015 result was close; Watts defeated Liberal Judy Higginbotham by 1,439 votes.

The Liberals already have their candidate in place – former White Rock mayor and BC Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg. Hogg retired from provincial politics earlier this year, but made it clear he would be open to other opportunities. He is a well-respected member of the community.

As of this writing, the Conservative, NDP and Green parties have not announced candidates.

This will not be Hogg’s first run at federal politics. In 1993, when he was mayor of White Rock, he ran for the Liberals in what was then the Surrey-White Rock-South Langley riding. In that election, which the Liberals won after nine years of Progressive Conservative government, Hogg ran second to winning Reform candidate Val Meredith. She had 32,198 votes, while Hogg received 24,683. PC candidate Norm Blain was a distant third with 8,885 votes, and NDP candidate Mota Singh Jheeta received just 3,029 votes.

The Liberals easily won a majority and it was helped by a PC/Reform split of votes, particularly in Ontario where it won all but one seat. However, in B.C. it only won six seats. Reform candidates won 24 and took a significant share of votes from both the PCs and NDP.

In the 2015 election, the Liberals did amazingly well in Surrey. The party has remained popular since, but has faltered on a few issues recently. New Conservative and NDP leaders may eat into their margins, but Trudeau remains the party’s biggest asset.

One way to gauge how the parties see the byelection unfolding will be to watch if the leaders visit the riding between now and Dec. 11.

Will Trudeau visit South Surrey-White Rock? Will Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer? For the Conservatives, it is important that they hold the seat. They need a strong candidate and focused campaign.

Neither the NDP nor the Green Party is likely to win.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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