COLUMN: When a candidate’s dreams go up in smoke…

Up-and-down week for federal Liberals, as South Surrey-White Rock candidate Joy Davies is replaced by Judy Higginbotham.

It’s been a topsy-turvy week for the federal Liberals in South Surrey-White Rock, with candidate Joy Davies resigning Sept. 10 after controversial remarks she made about marijuana use on social media came to light.

Davies has been replaced by longtime Liberal and former Surrey councillor Judy Higginbotham.

South Surrey resident Higginbotham has been soldiering for the Liberals, both federal and provincial, since 1983, when she first ran with the provincial Liberals in what was then the two-member riding of Surrey-White Rock. She left the provincial Liberals to run with the doomed Social Credit party in the 1991 provincial election in Surrey-Cloverdale, but has been a loyal Liberal since that time.

She has run provincially five times and federally three times, in 1988, 2004 and 2008. In 2004, she got almost 37 per cent of the votes, and was just over 3,000 votes behind winning candidate Russ Hiebert.

Davies was a curious choice as the candidate in South Surrey-White Rock from the beginning. Some observers had been suggesting the Liberals had a chance to win the seat, which has been held consistently by the Progressive Conservatives, Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservatives since it was first split off from the larger Surrey riding almost 30 years ago. Notably, threehundredeight.com, a website which looks at all polls in aggregate, and CBC’s poll tracker, was suggesting early in the campaign that the Liberals could win it.

Threehundredeight.com does note that its “riding projections are not polls and are not necessarily an accurate reflection of current voting intentions in each riding.” On Tuesday, its website showed the Conservatives in the ascendancy over the Liberals in South Surrey-White Rock.

Davies has experience, as a councillor in both Tumbler Ridge and Grand Forks. However, she is almost unknown in South Surrey and White Rock. Her most prominent position was as a founder and former government relations director of the Canadian Medical (Therapeutic) Cannabis Partners Society.

This led to her social-media comments, suggesting that pregnant women could safely use marijuana and that the Canadian Cancer Society was “another outlet for big pharma.”

The Liberals have called for marijuana to be legalized, attracting support from Marc and Jodie Emery, for example. The party’s pro-marijuana stance is a minimal factor in South Surrey-White Rock, an affluent riding which has never been a hotbed of pro-pot sentiment.

Davies was not the first candidate to resign over social-media comments in this election. In fact, given her longstanding interest in medical cannabis use, it is surprising that the Liberals didn’t realize that some of her comments were likely to cause problems. All parties do significant vetting of potential candidates, including social-media searches.

Higginbotham is a known quantity in the riding. She has made controversial comments during her years as a Surrey councillor, as most councillors who serve for any length of time do. She has been very active in the community, has a strong interest in heritage and the arts, and her name is very well-known.

If the Liberals did have a shot at winning this riding against former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, who is running for the Conservatives, it would have made sense to have a better-known candidate right from the beginning.

n On another subject, I’ve been asked to moderate an all-candidates forum in the riding on Tuesday, Sept. 29 (7-9 p.m.) at Crescent United Church, organized by the church and the South Fraser Unitarians.

It will feature discussions on several hot topics, notably climate change and end-of-life choices, plus plenty of give and take on both local and national issues.

I’m looking forward to seeing the candidates handle these topics, although as of last week, Watts’ campaign office said she would not attend. Given that she is one of the most capable and sure-footed politicians on the Surrey scene over the past decade, that’s surprising. Conservative candidates in some ridings are avoiding such meetings.  It is up to voters to draw their own conclusions as to why.

The exact words in the campaign’s email to the organizers were “Unfortunately, due to prior commitments and scheduling issues, Ms. Watts will not be able to participate in your forum.”

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

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