Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

Battleground BC

Fraser North: A Wild Ride

New Dems likely to re-take New West and two more, Libs to get one, and six up for grabs.

By Will McMartin, 9 Apr 2005,

This Lower Mainland sub-region covers the area north of the Fraser River, extending from Boundary Road in the west to Harrison Lake in the east. It includes the municipalities of Burnaby, Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Mission, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody. It is a Battleground BC 'left-of-centre' region, in recognition of its long-standing support for labour-socialist MLAs.

New Westminster, briefly the Colony of British Columbia's capital city, is the oldest riding in this region. The city and surrounding district (including the Lower Fraser Valley on both sides of the Fraser River) had three legislative seats in 1871, the year B.C. joined Confederation.

Redistribution in 1894 created two distinct seats covering this region, New Westminster City and Westminster-Dewdney. Four years later, Richard McBride, a young New Westminster lawyer, won the latter seat, which he held for nearly a decade. In 1903, when the 32-year old McBride became B.C.'s youngest-ever premier, and also introduced party politics to the provincial scene, redistribution made Dewdney a stand-alone riding. New Westminster City was held by the Conservatives until 1916. That year it became simply New Westminster, elected a Liberal MLA, and stayed in Liberal hands for the next 10 general elections.

Burnaby, established as a single-seat constituency in 1924, was the only riding won that year by the fledgling Canadian Labour Party. It was an early hint of the area's sizeable working-class vote. Eight years later, when the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation contested its first general election in B.C., Burnaby immediately elected a CCF MLA. Ernie Winch held the seat from 1933 until his death in 1957, and the subsequent by-election also was won by the CCF.

In 1956, Burnaby became a two-member riding, and a decade later was divided into three single-member seats: Burnaby-Edmonds, Burnaby North, and Burnaby-Willingdon. From 1933 until 1972, with just one exception, every Burnaby seat contested in a general election was won by either the CCF or its successor, the New Democratic Party. The anomaly occurred in 1963, when Social Credit took one of the two-member seats by a margin of 241 votes. Prominent CCF-NDP MLAs holding Burnaby seats over the period included Gordon Dowding, Eileen Dailly and Jim Lorimer. Cracks appeared in the NDP bastion in 1975, when Social Credit won narrow victories in Edmonds and Willingdon. The former seat, held from 1975 to 1979 by Socred Ray Loewen (later of funeral home fame), quickly reverted to the NDP with Rosemary Brown. Social Credit again captured the seat in 1986 with Dave Mercier, but it was re-taken in 1991, and held in 1996, by New Democrat Fred Randall. The latter riding was the scene of three epic battles between New Democrat Lorimer and Socred Elwood Veitch, who was MLA from 1975 to 1979, and from 1983 to 1991. Joan Sawicki regained the seat in 1991 and held it in 1996. Burnaby North remained in NDP hands under Dailly (1966-1986), Barry Jones (1986-1996) and Pietro Calendino (1996-2001).

New Westminster became a rock-solid CCF-NDP fortress after Rae Eddie defeated Liberal premier Byron 'Boss' Johnson in 1952. Eddie held the seat over six general elections before bequeathing it to Dennis Cocke (1969 to 1986), who handed it to Anita Hagen (1986 to 1996), who made way for Graeme Bowbricke (1996 to 2001). The CCF-NDP enjoyed only modest success in Dewdney. Dave Barrett was elected MLA in 1960 over Socred Lyle Wicks (who had held it since 1952), and was re-elected in 1963. Three years later the single-member riding was divided into two seats, Dewdney and Coquitlam, and Barrett went with the latter. Dewdney was re-taken in 1966 by Social Credit's George Mussallem, who was returned in 1969, 1975 and 1979. His sole defeat was in 1975, to New Democrat Peter Rolston.

Socred Austin Pelton succeeded Mussallem in 1983, and was returned again in 1986 along with another Social Credit MLA, Norm Jacobsen, when Dewdney became a two-member riding. The name Dewdney disappeared from the legislature in redistribution prior to the 1991 general election. It was replaced by Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and Mission-Kent, both of which were won by the NDP in 1991 and 1996; Bill Hartley in the former, and Dennis Streifel in the latter. Barrett won in Coquitlam in 1966, 1969 and 1972 (when he became B.C.'s first NDP premier), but he fell 18 votes short of Socred George Kerster in 1975. Four years later, the riding was split into two: Maillardville-Coquitlam and Coquitlam-Moody. The former was won in 1979 by New Democrat Norm Levi, who lost by 39 votes to Socred John Parks in 1983. John Cashore regained the seat for the NDP in 1986, and won re-election in 1991 and 1996. The latter was won by the NDP in 1979 (by Stu Leggett), 1983 and 1986 (Mark Rose), before it too was divided into two new seats. The NDP won both Port Coquitlam and Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain in 1991, with Mike Farnworth and Barb Copping, respectively. Farnworth was re-elected five years later, but Copping retired, and her seat went to a Liberal newcomer, Christy Clark.

A new seat, Burquitlam, was created prior to the 2001 general election, when redistribution changed the names and boundaries of nearly all the remaining ridings. All 10 seats were captured subsequently by the Liberals: Clark was returned in Port Moody-Westwood; Karn Manhas defeated Farnworth in Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain; Joyce Murray beat Bowbricke in New Westminster; Harry Bloy took Burquitlam; Patty Sahota won Burnaby-Edmonds; Richard T. Lee topped Calendino in Burnaby North; John Nuraney was successful in Burnaby-Willingdon; Richard Stewart prevailed in Coquitlam-Maillardville; Ken Stewart overtook Hartley in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows; and Randy Hawes triumphed in Maple Ridge-Mission.

The region should see several closely-fought battles in 2005. All of the Liberal incumbents, save Clark and Manhas, are seeking re-election, and former NDP MLAs Farnworth and Calendino are attempting to win back their old seats. The New Democrats are likely to re-take New Westminster, Coquitlam-Maillardville and Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, while the Liberals ought to keep Port Moody-Westwood. The remaining six seats - four in Burnaby, and the remaining two in the old Dewdney area, are up for grabs.

TABLE -- Fraser North ridings listed in order of Liberals' 2001 vote-share

  • Port Moody-Westwood - 74.6%
  • Coquitlam-Mallairdville - 57.0
  • Maple Ridge-Mission - 56.7
  • Burquitlam - 56.3
  • Burnaby-Willingdon - 55.8
  • Burnaby North - 54.4
  • Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows - 53.0
  • Burnaby-Edmonds - 51.1
  • New Westminster - 49.2
  • Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain - 45.1

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]