POLITICS: Abbotsford-South riding may offer five-way race

Newly acclaimed Liberal candidate Darryl Plecas is in for an interesting fight in the Abbotsford-South riding. Ric Ernst/PNG

KEITH BALDREY
SPECIAL TO SURREY NOW

Election nights are usually exciting events and next spring’s provincial contest should be no exception.

But as I sit next to Chris Gailus on the Global set on the evening of May 13, 2013, poring over riding-by-riding results throughout the evening, one race may attract more of our attention than others because it’s shaping up to have more drama than any other.

That would be the riding of Abbotsford-South. It has the potential to be a genuine four-way race, a rarity in B.C.’s usually polarized electorate. In fact, it could even be a five-way race.

The riding is usually safe territory for the B.C. Liberals. The party won the seat in 2009 with more than 58 per cent of the vote, and it ranks in the top 10 seats where the party did best.

But a number of factors are now at play that have turned this contest on its head and make it a genuine toss-up, a development that seemed unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

First, long-time incumbent John van Dongen, who has held the seat since winning a byelection there in 1995, will be running as a credible independent candidate (assuming he won’t join yet another party before the election is called).

Van Dongen, of course, quit the B.C. Liberals last spring. Presumably, he will attract a fair share of the vote next spring, certainly more than your average “independent” candidate would.

The B.C. Conservatives will no doubt field a candidate, although given the fact they appear to be crumbling both in the polls and internally, it’s unlikely that person will play anything more than a spoiler role.

And this brings us back to the B.C. Liberals and the party’s controversial decision to let its head office stick its nose in constituency affairs and elbow one candidate out of the way in favour of another.

The displaced would-be candidate is local councillor Moe Gill, who had been planning to challenge van Dongen for the nomination before the MLA quit the party.
Gill had been working for two years to secure the nomination, and his supporters had taken control over the riding association in the process.

But the party’s head office had other ideas and informed Gill he was out, and wouldn’t be getting the nomination. Instead, noted criminologist Darryl Plecas was appointed the candidate over the wishes of the party’s riding executive, who all quit in protest.

This messy affair will no doubt cost the B.C. Liberals votes. Gill and his supporters are planning on some kind of revenge, although it’s not clear what, exactly, that will entail.

But Plecas, van Dongen and the B.C. Conservative candidate will all be fighting over slices of the same pie now.

The centre-right vote bloc will be split three ways, instead of the usual two.

The person to benefit most from this unusual scenario is the NDP candidate, Lakhvinder Jhaj, who is no doubt smiling a lot these days. She is now the only Indo-Canadian in the race, which gives her yet another advantage in a riding that has a large Indo-Canadian community.

The NDP candidate got almost 26 per cent of the vote in 2009, which was nowhere near van Dongen’s winning total of course.

But look at it this way. About 9,500 people voted for the B.C. Liberals last time, and about 4,200 voted for the NDP.

If the NDP can boost its total vote by about 1,000 people (a safe proposition, given the party’s rise in the polls and the ever-changing demographic of the riding, which is becoming younger), it can achieve victory if 3,300 or so B.C. Liberal voters either vote for van Dongen or someone else.

Given the party’s treatment of Gill, and van Dongen’s own personal popularity, such a scenario doesn’t seem far-fetched.

There’s another reason the NDP may be gaining confidence in Abbotsford-South. The latest Angus Reid poll shows the B.C. Liberals continue to have trouble hanging onto their supporters from the previous election.

About one-third of previous B.C. Liberal voters say they won’t back the party this time around.

In Abbotsford-South that translates to about 3,200 voters – about the number the NDP needs to pull out a victory.

Given the B.C. Liberal party’s internal problems in the riding, I suspect the number of disaffected party voters may be even higher.

This all adds up to making Abbotsford-South a riding to watch next May 13.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

For more Surrey news, visit Surrey Now.





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