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Battleground BC

Fraser Valley South: Nine Liberal Seats Likely

Social conservative Mary Polak should find a warm embrace this time in Langley.

By Will McMartin, 7 Apr 2005,

Our second ‘right-of-centre’ stronghold (after the Okanagan), Fraser Valley South has a long agricultural history and once was known as B.C.’s ‘Bible-belt.’ This electoral sub-region covers that portion of the Lower Mainland south of the Fraser River and north of the U.S. border, extending westward from Chilliwack through Abbotsford, Langley, Cloverdale, White Rock and south Surrey, and over Boundary Bay to the south Delta communities of Tsawwassen and Ladner. It excludes north-central Surrey and north Delta.

The region had two legislative seats — Chilliwack and Delta (which initially included present-day Richmond and Surrey — for most of the period between 1903 and 1952, and generally alternated between returning Liberal and Conservative MLAs. John Oliver, a long-time Delta farmer and B.C.’s premier from 1918 to 1927, won elections in Delta in 1900, 1903, 1907 and 1920. The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation also enjoyed electoral success in Delta, electing Robert Swailes (1933) and Len Shepherd (1937 and 1941).

Social Credit won both seats in 1952, and the region remained a party stronghold for four decades. Ken Kiernan held Chilliwack for 20 years, while Tom Irwin was Delta’s MLA for five before resigning in 1957 to seek a federal seat.

An additional seat was created in 1956, when Delta was made a two-member riding, and then in 1966 four single-member districts were established: Chilliwack, Delta, Langley and Surrey. Socred MLAs elected during the W.A.C. Bennett era included George Massey, Bert Vogel, Bob Wenman, and Ernie LeCours. In 1972, the year that Bennett was defeated as premier, Bob McClelland and Harvey Schroeder were elected MLAs for Langley and Chilliwack, respectively. Both won re-election in 1975, 1979 and 1983.

But the CCF-NDP also enjoyed some electoral success in the region. Camille Mather and James Rhodes were elected for a single term in two-member Delta in 1956, Ernie Hall won Surrey in 1966, 1969, 1972 and 1979, (strictly speaking, Hall’s electoral base was in north Surrey, which lies outside the boundaries for Fraser Valley South), and Carl Liden captured Delta in 1972.

At this point the region began a lengthy period of significant population growth, and gained additional representation in the Legislative Assembly. Redistribution prior to the 1979 general election created a new seat called Central Fraser Valley and made Surrey a two-member riding. Socred MLA Bill Ritchie won election in the new district in 1979 and 1983, while in Surrey, a Socred, Bill Vander Zalm (who was first elected Surrey MLA in 1975) and a New Democrat, Ernie Hall, were returned in 1979. Four years later, they were succeeded by Socred newcomers Rita Johnston and Bill Reid. Walter Davidson, a Socred, was elected MLA for Delta in 1979, 1983 and 1986.

On the eve of the 1986 general election, redistribution transformed Central Fraser Valley, Delta and Langley into two-member districts, and Surrey lost its dual-member status to become three distinct seats. In the contest that followed, all eight seats located in the Fraser Valley South sub-region (which excluded Surrey-Newton and Surrey-Guildford-Whalley) were won by candidates with the Vander Zalm-led Social Credit party. John Jansen in Chilliwack; Peter Dueck and Harry DeJong in Central Fraser Valley; Davidson and John Savage in Delta; Carol Gran and Dan Peterson in Langley; and Reid in Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale.

The region’s electoral boundaries were altered again when B.C.’s two-member ridings were abolished prior to the 1991 general election. Single-member districts in the region included Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Delta South, Fort Langley-Aldergrove, Langley, Matsqui, Surrey-Cloverdale, and Surrey-White Rock.

The election that followed, of course, brought a sea-change to B.C. politics. Social Credit was decimated, the New Democrats were elected to government, and the Liberals emerged from the wilderness to become the official opposition. In Fraser Valley South, Socred MLAs retained just two seats — DeJong in Abbotsford and Dueck in Matsqui. The remaining six were captured by Liberal newcomers: Bob Chisholm, Gary Farrell-Collins, Fred Gingell, Wilf Hurd, Ken Jones and Lynn Stephens.

Within a few years, Social Credit was obliterated in the valley after two by-elections. Dueck resigned his Matsqui seat in 1994 so the new Socred leader, Grace McCarthy, could win a legislative seat. But she lost to Liberal Mike de Jong, and the following year, after Harry DeJong quit his Abbotsford district, John Van Dongen won it for the Liberals.

The 1996 and 2001 general elections saw the Liberals sweep every seat in Fraser Valley South. Redistribution prior to the latter contest created an additional seat in the region, for a total of nine. The Liberal victors were Barry Penner (Chilliwack-Kent), John Les (Chilliwack-Sumas), Van Dongen (Abbotsford-Clayburn), de Jong (Abbotsford-Mount Lehman), Stephens (Langley), Rich Coleman (Fort Langley-Aldergrove), Gordon Hogg (Surrey-White Rock), Kevin Falcon (Surrey-Cloverdale) and Val Roddick (Delta South).

In 2005, eight of the nine Liberal incumbents will seek re-election, and all should easily retain their seats. A contest may develop in Langley, where Stephens is retiring after three consecutive terms. However, Liberal hopeful Mary Polak, a losing candidate in the 2004 by-election in Surrey-Panorama Ridge, is likely to hold the seat.

TABLE -- Fraser Valley South ridings, listed in order of Liberals’ 2001 vote-share

  • Chilliwack-Kent — 74.9%
  • Chilliwack-Sumas — 74.8
  • Abbotsford-Clayburn — 72.5
  • Surrey-White Rock — 68.7
  • Abbotsford-Mt Lehman — 68.5
  • Fort Langley-Aldergrove — 68.3
  • Delta South — 67.0
  • Langley — 64.9
  • Surrey-Cloverdale — 63.7

Check in daily for Battleground BC, Will McMartin’s voting predictions and analysis, exclusive to The Tyee. You can reach him with tips, insights and info at  [Tyee]