The last stop B.C. NDP leader John Horgan made during the 2017 election campaign was on the Surrey side of the Port Mann Bridge, where he held a sign that said, “End tolls, vote NDP,” while he waved at drivers.
He knew then what remains true today — voters living in communities south of the Fraser can make the difference between winning and losing.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University professor Shinder Purewal says the B.C. Liberals clearly know this, too, which is why party leader Andrew Wilkinson chose Surrey to kick off his campaign on Monday.
“The Liberals really lost their government last time because of Surrey and North Delta,” he said. “This really is the most important region.”
The New Democrats had their best showing in Surrey in 2017, winning six of nine seats, including two held by Liberal cabinet ministers. The party was also victorious in both Maple Ridge ridings and North Delta.
Purewal says the balance of power in the legislature is so tight — the NDP and Liberals each hold 41 seats, the Greens have two, there are two independents and one seat is vacant — that the election could come down to whether the New Democrats can repeat their 2017 success south of the Fraser.
“I think that if the Liberals are able to take back Surrey-Panorama, Surrey-Fleetwood, Surrey-Guildford and Delta-North, they have a government,” Purewal said.
Surrey-White Rock candidate Bill Marshall was the only Green Party candidate in Surrey who received more than 15 per cent of the vote in 2017.
The NDP promised three years ago that it would wipe out tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, get rid of all portables in the Surrey School District and build a new hospital in the city.
Tolls were eliminated shortly after the NDP took power, but at his campaign launch in Surrey on Monday, Wilkinson said the NDP hasn’t done much else for Surrey residents.
“Where’s the famous hospital?” Wilkinson asked. “What’s happened to SkyTrain? What about trucking? What about the taxi shortage? What about the hundreds of portable classrooms they said they’d get rid of?”
The NDP acknowledged it wouldn’t be able to eliminate portables in Surrey after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2017 that class sizes in B.C. must be restored to 2002 levels.
Surrey-Guildford NDP candidate Garry Begg says his government has made significant investments in Surrey.
“We’ve accomplished more in three short years than his governments were able to do in 16 long years,” he said. “We eliminated tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, created thousands of classroom spaces and we have plans in the works for a brand new hospital.”
Purewal says overcrowded classrooms and the aging hospital have both been major issues in Surrey for years, but they could be even more top of mind for voters because of the pandemic.
“It’s a population of more than half a million people and one little hospital, so what happens if the cases keep rising?” he said. “With schools, you need a much bigger space between students and Surrey just doesn’t have that space.”