COLUMN: Will voters punish federal Liberals?

Broken promise on electoral reform will be a factor in the next election.

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

Four of the 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 took the opportunity to tease her Liberal opponents (five of the six local seats are held by Liberals), saying “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 reform wasn’t top of mind for many voters, but 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 that the Liberals surged far beyond any previous high water marks in 2015. 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. The NDP’s Teresa Townsley wasn’t far behind.

In 2011, the race was closer. That year, when the riding was called Newton-North Delta and included North Delta, Dhaliwal came second, losing the seat to the NDP’s Jinny Sims by just over 900 votes. He took 31.4 per cent of the vote to Sims’ 33.4 per cent.

In 2015, he won with almost 56 per cent of the vote, handily defeating Sims by more than 13,000 votes. It is obvious that most of those votes came from NDP supporters, although Conservative voters in the 2011 election also went Liberal in large numbers.

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 grown and seen significant demographic changes, the NDP vote clearly dropped and the Green vote plummeted. The Trudeau pledge did make 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,” he said.

Hardie likely won’t be punished as much in 2019 for the broken promise. The Liberals did quite well in that riding in 2008, running second when Brenda Locke was the candidate – 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 quite possible that some of those 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 weekly for The Leader.


Surrey North Delta Leader

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