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Orange Crush Comes to Surrey

At the Bollywood Ballroom, cheers for New Dem winners Sandhu and Sims -- and the nationwide NDP surge.

By Katie Hyslop 3 May 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop reports for The Tyee.

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Surrey North victor Jasbir Sandhu with a supporter earlier in the election campaign.

The Orange Crush rolled into Surrey's Bollywood Ballroom where hundreds of New Democratic Party supporters gathered last night to watch, wait and hope.

The party was for NDP candidates running in three closely watched Surrey-area ridings where the Conservative drive for a majority would run smack against the NDP's surge.

As the votes mounted, the New Democrat crowd had reason to celebrate. Jinny Sims took Newton-Delta away from a Liberal incumbent and Jasbir Sandhu defeated the sitting Conservative in Surrey North, while the third New Dem of the trio, Nao Fernando, failed to pry Fleetwood-Port Kells away from the Conservatives.

Sandhu, a Justice Institute of B.C. instructor and restaurant owner, was the star of the evening. At 10 p.m. when he tried to make his way to the stage, the mostly Indo-Canadian crowd raucously swarmed him, Kool & The Gang's "Celebrate" blasting out of the speakers.

Sandhu had defeated Conservative incumbent Dona Cadman, and like dozens of other newly elected NDP MPs across Canada, he had lots of good things to say about Canada's new leader of the opposition.

"I am deeply proud of the leadership that Jack Layton has shown," said Sandhu, pausing for the hoots and hollers to die down.

"I would like to extend my gratitude to the people of Surrey North for expressing their faith in me, the NDP, and choosing me to be your representative in the Parliament. I will strive everyday to represent everyone in the riding: New Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, or Green Party. My office will be open and accessible to all of you."

NDP wins 102 seats

Starting the election with just 16 per cent in the opinion polls, the NDP managed to almost double their popularity by taking over 30 per cent of Canadian votes, translating into 102 seats. It's a feat that more than doubles their previous record of 43 seats from the 1988 election, making them the official Opposition for the first time in the party's 50-year history.

"In this campaign New Democrats promised to get Ottawa working for you and your family. Tonight Canadians voted in record numbers across the land," said Layton during his victory speech from NDP headquarters in Toronto.

"You voted to help families make ends meet. You voted to grow our economy with new jobs and new opportunities. And you voted to end the same old debates and political games."

The Lower Mainland ridings were a microcosm of the election as a whole, with Conservative and NDP candidates almost splitting the victories right up the middle: eight seats for the Conservatives, seven to the NDP and only two ridings going to the Liberals.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives focused heavily on suburban ridings in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, pursuing the so-called "ethnic vote," particularly the Lower Mainland's large immigrant population, often assumed to have social conservative leanings despite traditionally voting Liberal.

Surrey North, with a population of over 111,000, predominantly working and middle class people -- almost 50 per cent immigrants -- has gone back and forth between NDP and Reform, Alliance, and Conservative candidates since the riding was created in 1988. This time the riding opted to go back to the NDP.

"(The Conservative strategy) didn't work in north Surrey because what matters to people in north Surrey are issues that are about affordability and who can they trust, and Jack has shown over and over that he is willing to work with other people, and that message has resonated with the citizens of north Surrey," said Sandhu.

HST hurt Cadman, Conservatives

Dona Cadman took the seat in 2008, following in the footsteps of her husband, former Conservative and then Independent MP Chuck Cadman, who had held the riding for eight years before passing away in 2005. But despite the popularity of her family name, Cadman was unable to keep the seat from newcomer Sandhu, who campaigned on a platform of getting rid of the HST -- something Cadman voted for, against the wishes of her riding.

It's an issue that's top of mind for Herman Grewal, a student from north Surrey who thinks getting rid of the tax is the first thing the NDP should do when they get to Ottawa.

"I voted NDP because they're supporting second-class citizens," says Grewal.

"Lowering tuition, trying to get rid of the HST tax. So basically they're going to be helping middle-class, second-class citizens."

'We were inclusive': Sims

Representative of the fact the NDP have proven themselves to be a third viable political option, the race in Newton-North Delta was truly three-way, with former BCTF president Sims narrowly beating Liberal incumbent Sukh Dhaliwal and Conservative Mani Fallon by roughly 1,000 votes. Sims credited her win to an open and welcoming campaign run by her party.

"We ran a clean, Canadian-style campaign. We were inclusive, we welcomed people who had formerly voted for the Liberals, we welcomed people who had formerly voted for the Conservatives," says Sims.

"I want to give you one assurance from this stage: whether you voted for me or not, I commit to work tirelessly to be an MP for every single one of you."

Ankie Carswell isn't even from the Newton-Delta riding -- she voted NDP in Burnaby-New West where NDP candidate Peter Julian took almost 50 per cent of the votes -- but came out to the rally to support Sims.

"I believe they're the right party to turn Canada around and be good to families," Carswell told The Tyee, citing retirement, tuition, and low-income family supports as reasons she supports the party.

"It's surprising that the NDP won so many seats. I could see it coming a few days ago, but to actually see it and have the NDP as the official Opposition, it's pretty empowering."

Not everyone at the rally was a winner. Fleetwood-Port Kells NDP candidate Nao Fernando gave the first speech of the night, conceding defeat to Conservative incumbent Nina Grewal, who took almost 50 per cent of the vote in her riding.

"It is rather sad that all the good work done by this team has not born fruit. However, let me be very clear about this: we have built a good foundation and on that foundation we are going to establish our credentials in the riding of Fleetwood-Port Kells that is going to last for a long, long, time," says Fernando, who despite losing the seat increased his share of the vote by 10 per cent compared to the 2008 election.  [Tyee]

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