The federal byelection in South Surrey-White Rock takes place next Monday, Dec. 11.
The byelection has captured more interest than usual, largely because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has visited the area twice to campaign with Liberal candidate Gordie Hogg. This is unprecedented here. Never has a sitting prime minister spent that much time and energy campaigning for a single candidate, and no party leader has spent time in South Surrey/White Rock during an election.
When most of Surrey was in one federal riding, from 1968 to 1979, it was rare for a federal party leader to visit. Trudeau’s father, Pierre, did make a famous appearance at Fort Langley in the 1968 “Trudeaumania” campaign. It partially worked – the Liberals won Fraser Valley East, but were shut out in Fraser Valley West and Surrey-White Rock.
As more ridings were added, it became more likely that a federal leader would visit the city during a general election campaign. In 1988, Liberal Leader John Turner came as part of his passionate campaign against the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, perhaps the last federal election so focused on a single issue.
More recently, Surrey has become a regular stop for leaders because of the ever-increasing number of ridings. In 2015, incumbent prime minister Stephen Harper, Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair all visited.
The visits were most fruitful for Trudeau, as four of five Surrey ridings went to the Liberals – a seismic shift, given that since 1953, the only federal Liberal elected in Surrey was Sukh Dhaliwal, in 2006 and 2008. Dhaliwal’s wins came after he finished second to Conservative Gurmant Grewal in 2004. He won in 2006, but not by much. In 2008, Dhaliwal’s win was more decisive, and in 2011, he lost his seat to New Democrat Jinny Sims.
The Liberals could make Surrey 100 per cent theirs if Hogg wins the byelection. He certainly has a shot – more than 1,400 people registered to hear Trudeau speak at Semiahmoo Secondary on Saturday. Hogg also has the benefit of being well-known as a former White Rock councillor, mayor and BC Liberal MLA.
The Conservatives have fielded former Delta-Richmond East MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay as their candidate. While she was in the Harper cabinet, she is not nearly as well-known here as Hogg is. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been in the riding twice to campaign on her behalf, but he is an unknown quantity to the public.
South Surrey-White Rock voters have historically voted conservative – electing Progressive Conservative, Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative MPs since the riding was formed with somewhat different boundaries in 1988. This byelection could see a shift, but results will likely be close, with the Liberals and Conservatives the only real contenders.
It is important to remember that byelections traditionally have smaller turnouts, and this one is occurring in the busy pre-Christmas season.
Getting the vote out will be crucial. The party that manages to do so most successfully will be the one that wins.
Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Now-Leader.