Monday, August 30, 2004

Stakes high for all parties in coming Surrey byelection

VICTORIA - The overdue byelection in Surrey Panorama Ridge is going to offer a great chance to judge how the Liberals will fare in next year's vote.
Sure, byelections almost always go against the governing party. They're a safe way for voters to express dissatisfaction without committing to a whole new government.
But the Liberals' success - or failure - is still going to be a good indication of how well they will do next May.
The byelection is needed to replace Gulzmar Cheema, who resigned back in May to launch an unsuccessful campaign as a federal Liberal. Premier Gordon Campbell had six months to call the byelection. He's let three months pass already, depriving voters in the riding representation.
Even if Campbell calls the byelection this week, the results won't be final until mid-October. For the first two weeks of the fall legislative session, no one will speak for the riding. (Campbell criticized the NDP for byelection delays for that reason.)
It should be a fascinating race.
For starters, the riding is a good case study. In the 2001 election its vote closely mirrored the overall results. Across B.C. the Liberals got 58 per cent of the popular vote, and the NDP 22 per cent. In Surrey Panorama the Liberals took 60 per cent and the NDP 20 per cent.
There's the byelection factor to consider, but the results will still give an indication of how much the Liberal support has eroded.
The NDP has nominated Jagrup Brar, who looks a strong candidate. He's lived in the riding for 10 years and runs SEEDS, a federal program that helps people start their own businesses. He's well-known in the large IndoCanadian community, and would be seen as a moderate New Democrat.
Brar's had the NDP nomination since May. The Liberals have yet to set a date for a nomination meeting.
But their only declared candidate so far adds another interesting twist to the race.
Mary Polak is a Surrey school trustee who took an unsuccessful shot at becoming a federal Conservative candidate earlier this year. She was a school trustee - and for part of the time the chair - when the Surrey board spent almost $1 million trying to keep three kids' books depicting same sex parents out of Surrey schools. (The court ruled the ban had been made on excessively narrow grounds, including on the basis of religion. The board then banned the books again citing their quality.)
Polak would be a strong candidate in the riding, but her background makes some Liberals edgy. The party needs a broad base of support; Polak's brand of social conservatism will alienate some voters.
The byelection is also a critical test for the smaller parties who hope to grab votes from people disenchanted with both the Liberals and the NDP.
The newest entrant will be the fledgling BC Democrat Alliance, which leader Tom Morino says will be a moderate alternative to the Liberals. Morino - who will run in the byelection - is a Sooke councillor, two-time provincial Liberal candidate and former member of the party's provincial executive. (Morino had hoped to revive Gordon Wilson's Progress Democratic Alliance, but that got too complicated.)
Morino wants candidates in every riding next May to offer a serious alternative to the Liberals; his showing in Surrey Panorama will show whether that's realistic.
The Unity Party - which took seven per cent of the vote in the riding in 2001 - faces a similar challenge in portraying itself as the credible centre-right alternative to the Liberals.
And the Green Party will be looking to improve on its nine-per-cent support in the riding in order to convince prospective backers that they won't just be casting a protest vote next May.
It's going to be an important byelections for all the parties that hope to play a role in next May's general election.
All that's left is for Campbell to get on with it.
Footnote: Unity head Chris Delaney is promising an announcement Wednesday on efforts to unite centre-right opposition to the Liberals in the next election, with support expected from at least some other parties and municipal politicians. Unity's poll standings indicate the party could be a big factor in some close races.

No comments: