Thursday, September 30, 2004

Every party's future on the line in Surrey byelection

VICTORIA - The Surrey byelection called -finally - by the premier is going to give you a heck of a sneak preview of next May's election.
Each of the parties goes into the byelection under giant question marks. Opinion polls tell one story, but this is the first chance to find out what voters will actually do when they go into the ballot box and have to make a real choice.
Surrey-Panorama Ridge is a good test riding. In the 2001 election voters there reflected the provincial support for the NDP and the Liberals almost exactly. There are no huge local issues to distort the outcome, though the relative strength of the local candidates may be distorting factor.
The Liberals need to win, or at least post a strong showing.
Sure, byelections generally go against the governing party. It's a safe way for voters to send a protest message.
But the Liberals outpolled the NDP by a three-to-one margin in the riding in 2001. The byelection is coming barely six months before the provincial election, lessening the appeal of sending a protest message. And the Liberals have the advantage of a strong candidate and a big split between the Greens and New Democrats.
The candidate is Mary Polak, best known as a Surrey school trustee when that board spent almost $1 million trying to keep three kids' books depicting same sex parents out of Surrey schools.
It looked bizarre and foolish. But Polak, though a member of the ban-the-books bunch, was seen as a moderate. She has a high profile in the riding, and a good rep with a lot of voters.
If the Liberals can't win here - even in a byelection - then they face problems in a lot of ridings.
For the NDP, the question is simple. Are people mad enough at the Liberals to vote New Democrat?
NDP leader Carole James decided not to run in the byelection. She made the decision four month's ago - that's how long Campbell has been delaying - reasoning rightly that it made more sense to work on organizing around the province.
But the byelection is still a test of her ability to convince voters that the New Democrats - despite their dismal record - can be trusted. The party's candidate is Jagrup Brar, who runs a federal program that helps people start their own businesses. He's well-known in the large IndoCanadian community, not much known outside that group. He'll neither hurt nor help the NDP; James will be the one voters judge.
Green leader Adriane Carr is running for her party. It's a chance for her to gain experience and grab some media attention.
But she's running some risks. Carr is seen as a parachute candidate - she says she'll run in the general election in her Sunshine Coast home riding whether she wins or loses in Surrey. That won't help her campaign. (Although development and loss of green space are big issues in the riding.)
Carr also risks highlighting the effects of vote-splitting among those opposed to the Liberals.
Consider the prospect of a Liberal win, partly through an NDP-Green vote split, with the New Democrats in second place. That kind of outcome would leave many voters questioning the wisdom of voting Green.
The Liberals also have to worry about vote-splitting. Polls suggest voters are dissatisfied with the Campbell government, but don't see a credible alternative.
But at least a couple of parties will be trying to appeal to Liberal supporters.
Former Liberal Tom Morino is running for his fledgling BC Democratic Alliance, promising to run as a moderate alternative to the Liberals. He's run twice for the Liberals, so should know how a campaign works.
The Conservative Party, fresh from emerging the Unity Party. Unity took seven per cent of the vote in 2001. Those lost votes were meaningless to the Liberals then; they could matter this time around.
In 28 days, a lot of questions will be answered.
Footnote: The Liberals should lose votes for delaying the byelection and depriving people in the riding of representation for five months. The legislature begins sitting next Monday, and the seat for Surrey-Panorama Ridge will be empty. Campbell criticized the NDP for similar delays

No comments: