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Liberals could unseat Tories in competitive South Surrey-White Rock byelection

By Marco Vigliotti      

South Surrey-White Rock is the seen as the only pick-up opportunity for any party among the four byelections scheduled for Dec. 11. The Liberals are in 'good shape to win three of the four ridings,' according to Mainstreet Research president and CEO Quito Maggi.

Pollsters says Liberal candidate Gordie Hogg, right, has a good chance of defeating former Tory cabinet minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, left, and flipping a marginal Greater Vancouver seat in the Dec. 11 byelection.
The Hill Times file photograph and Liberal Party of Canada photo

The federal Liberals have the inside track to flip a marginal Greater Vancouver seat up for grabs next week, thanks partly to a well-known and popular local candidate, though the three other byelections slated for Dec. 11 likely won’t change hands, say pollsters.

Quito Maggi, president and CEO of Mainstreet Research, said his firm’s polling in the South Surrey-White Rock, B.C., riding suggests Liberal candidate Gordie Hogg, a former local politician and ex-provincial cabinet minister, has a good chance at snatching the seat from the opposition Conservatives, though a strong showing from the Greens could be the “deciding factor.”

“It’s most certainly a two way race between Liberals and Conservatives, within five per cent,” he said in an emailed statement. “Things can change so the caution is there about the expected outcome, it may be volatile as byelections often are.”

The riding is one of four up for grabs next month, and comes mere weeks after the Trudeau government celebrated its two-year anniversary in office. Majority governments in Ottawa typically serve four-year terms, and the next federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2019, under non-binding fixed-date legislation brought in by the former federal Conservative government.

The vote in the Vancouver area, though, is the only one expected to be competitive, with Dianne Watts winning the riding in 2015 by only two and a half points over a spirited Liberal challenger.

Ms. Watts resigned the seat earlier this year to seek the leadership of the B.C. Liberals, the major centre-right party at the provincial level, borne out of a coalition free enterprise voters opposed to the NDP.

Mr. Hogg was nominated as the Liberal candidate early last month. He represented the riding of Surrey-White Rock in the B.C. Legislature as a member of the B.C. Liberals from 1997 until May 2017, serving as the children and family development minister in the first years of the Gordon Campbell government in the early 2000s.

Mr. Hogg served as mayor of White Rock for 10 years and also sat on city council.

The Conservatives nominated Harper-era cabinet minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, who was defeated in a nearby Vancouver-area riding in the 2015 election by Liberal Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.), who now serves as public services and procurement minister. Ms. Findlay represented the now-defunct Delta-Richmond East riding for a single term between 2011 and 2015, and served as the national revenue minister for the last two years of the Harper government.

The NDP is nominating community organizer Jonathan Silveira, while ethics educator and professional facilitator Larry Colero is running for the Greens. In 2015, the NDP candidate finished a distant third with 10 per cent of the vote, and the Greens won just over three per cent.  

When asked, Mr. Maggi described Mr. Hogg as a “very popular” candidate that out polls a generic Liberal by a few points.

A popular local candidate can translate into better results by increasing turnout, he said, pointing to the stronger than expected victory by local mayor and Liberal candidate Richard Hébert in this past summer’s byelection in the Quebec riding of Lac Saint Jean.

“We had a three to four point win for the Liberals in Lac Saint Jean and they won by over 10 per cent, largely due to the popularity of the local candidate and a significant organizational advantage over the other parties,” he said.

Mr. Maggi also pointed out that incumbency has “benefits,” and while the Tories last held South Surrey-White Rock, the Liberals are the incumbent government and “should be a draw.”

But come Dec. 11, it will “come down to local popularity,” he said.

Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, agreed that Mr. Hogg wields considerable personal popularity in the area, saying that if the Liberals are able to win the seat, it would be a rare circumstance when a strong local candidate can “drive and motivate votes as opposed to the party and party leader.”

“He’s well-known and well-liked,” she said in a phone interview.

“He carries both longtime local roots and right-of-centre credentials. He’s got those [credentials] on the street, on the local level.”

The remaining three seats up for grabs next month are longtime party strongholds that haven’t changed hands since their inception.

In Scarborough-Agincourt, located in Toronto’s east end, Liberal candidate Jean Yip is expected to easily win election and succeed her late husband Arnold Chan as MP for the riding.

Mr. Chan, a former provincial Liberal staffer and lawyer, was first elected in a 2014 byelection, replacing longtime Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who represented the riding since it was established in 1988.

Mr. Chan won re-election in 2015 with nearly 52 per cent of the vote in 2015, with Conservative Bin Chang finishing second with 38 per cent.

Mr. Chan passed away in September after spending the better part of the past three years battling cancer.

Ms. Kurl said she expects the emotional connection between constituents and the late Mr. Chan to have “quite an impact in driving votes” for Ms. Yip, though cautioned that voters may use the byelection to express their discontent with the provincial Liberal government.

“Provincially, the Ontario Liberals are very unpopular, they’re struggling. Will that rub-off on voters? Will they seek to take revenge on one Liberal brand on the federal level because they’re not able to do anything at the provincial level? Sometimes that can play a role,” she explained.

Mr. Maggi predicted that Ms. Yip would win by a “wide margin,” with the Tories to finish second, saying the final numbers could replicate the results of Mr. Chan’s byelection victory in 2014, when he won with 59 per cent of the vote.

“Organizational capacity, incumbency, and goodwill to Ms. Yip will all be factors that lead to a very large margin of victory,” he wrote.

The Conservatives are nominating banking executive Dasong Zou, while the NDP is putting forward Brian Chang, who served as the operations director for Jagmeet Singh’s successful leadership campaign.

The NDP finished third in 2015, with nearly eight per cent of all ballots. The Greens, who are nominating production company owner Michael DiPasquale, won 1.35 per cent of the vote in the last election.

The remaining two byelections will be held in the west-central Saskatchewan riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster and Bonavista-Burin-Trinity in central Newfoundland.

Asked about the effect cooler temperatures could have on the byelection results, Mr. Maggi said cold and snowy weather would be factors in turnout, most likely in the ridings in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador where the weather “might be the most severe.”

Lower turnout, he added, “benefits” incumbents, and combined with the organizational advantage, the Liberals are in “good shape to win three of the four ridings, and finish a “decent second place” in Battlefords-Lloydminster.

Conservative candidate and former Hill staffer Rosemarie Falk is expected to cruise to victory in the rural Saskatchewan riding, last held by former Harper-era agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.

Mr. Ritz, who resigned earlier this fall, represented the riding from its inception in 1997, first for the Reform Party, then as a member of the Canadian Alliance, and finally for the Conservative Party. He won re-election in 2015 with 61 per cent of the vote, followed by candidates from the NDP and Liberals, who won roughly 18 and 17 per cent, respectively.

Ms. Falk previously served as a legislative assistant for Alberta Conservative MP Arnold Viersen (Peace River-Westlock, Alta.).

Conversely, the Liberals are nominating small business owner and former municipal councillor Larry Ingram, with the NDP naming professional mixed martial arts fighter Matt Fedler as its flag-bearer.

In the last race, local mayor and former N.L. Liberal president Churence Rogers is the overwhelming favourite to succeed ex-public services and procurement minister Judy Foote as the MP for Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, which was first contested in 2015. 

Ms. Foote, who represented a previous iteration of the sprawling central Newfoundland riding since 2008, won the largest percentage of any candidate in 2015, drawing close to 82 per cent of the vote.

She resigned this fall for health and family reasons.

Mr. Rogers’ major rivals look to be Conservative candidate Mike Windsor, a teacher, and Memorial University researcher Tyler Downey of the NDP.

There have already been eight byelections held since the last federal election in October 2015, with Lac Saint Jean the only riding not to be retained by the incumbent party.


The Hill Times 

Results from the 2015 election 


Liberal Judy Foote: 28,704 votes; 81.8 per cent

Conservative Mike Windsor: 3,534 votes; 10.1 per cent

NDP Jenn Brown: 2,557 votes; 7.3 per cent

Green Tyler John Colbourne: 297 votes; 0.8 per cent


Liberal Arnold Chan: 21,587 votes; 51.9 per cent

Conservative Bin Chang: 15,802 votes; 38 per cent

NDP Laura Patrick: 3,263 votes; 7.9 per cent

Green Debra Scott: 570 votes; 1.4 per cent


Conservative Gerry Ritz: 20,547 votes; 61 per cent

NDP Glenn Tait: 5,930 votes; 17.6 per cent

Liberal Larry Ingram: 5,550 votes; 16.5 per cent

Independent Doug Anguish: 1,076 votes; 3.2 per cent

Green Mikaela Tenkink: 575 votes; 1.7 per cent

South Surrey-White Rock

Conservative Dianne Watts: 24,934 votes; 44 per cent

Liberal Judy Higginbotham: 23,495 votes; 41.5 per cent

NDP Pixie Hobby: 5,895 votes; 10.4 per cent

Green Larry Colero: 1,938 votes; 3.4 per cent

source: Elections Canada

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