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A by-election in Surrey South on 10 September is shaping up to be a battle over which local political party is seen as the frontrunner in healthcare.
BC Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadiux won the last election in 2020 with more votes than the nearest candidate, Pauline Graves of the NDP with 1,176 votes. Cadieux resigned at the end of April to join the federal government as Canada’s first chief disabled official.
Now Greaves, who teaches business at the Langara School of Management, is again working with the help of high-ranking MLAs in the NDP including Health Secretary Adrian Dix.
On Monday, NDP leadership candidate David Ibe joined forces with Graves in an ad promoting a new hospital in the Cloverdale area of Surrey.
The NDP government has promised to build a second hospital in Surrey, at a cost of $1.7 billion, near Kwantlin Polytechnic University and 180th Street. They say it will have 168 beds, an emergency room with 55 places and operating rooms.
When British Columbia liberal leader Kevin Falcone was finance minister in 2012, Greaves said, he sold land that was earmarked for a second hospital.
For a long time, the residents of Surrey and Cloverdale have been waiting for a second hospital, Greaves said.
The Liberals and the NDP are also fighting over the Massey Tunnel
She is up against liberal candidate Elinor Storko, a noted RCMP sergeant in Surrey and media spokesperson who is now on leave from work.
Storko was presented as the party’s star candidate again in May. On Friday, Storko said the proposed hospital should be built at a different location near the planned Langley-Surrey SkyTrain extension along Fraser Highway because it is easily accessible.
“We would like to see a full-service hospital meaning a maternity ward, an intensive care unit, more than 168 beds. One hundred and sixty-eight beds are not enough to make it a full-size hospital in our opinion,” Storko explained.
If Storko is elected, he also wants to defend a bridge over the Fraser River to replace the old Massey Tunnel. This differs from the current government’s plan to dig an eight-lane tunnel under the river. Liberals argue that the new tunnel will not meet environmental standards and will lead to a traffic jam for Surrey South passengers for years to come.
Political scientist Hamish Telford of Fraser Valley University says the government’s decision to date by-elections for September 10 appears to be a strategic move to hold the election at a busy time. It falls right after the first week of school and on the same day the Federal Conservative Party will announce the results of its leadership vote by mail.
“So it’s like the NDP doesn’t want anyone to notice that this race is happening, and maybe their voters are going out and the Liberal voters won’t know,” Telford said.
In a tight race, the support gained by BC Greens or BC Conservatives can also play a role in determining the winner.
Simon Fraser University student Simran Sarayi said she put her name up as a green candidate because she is concerned about issues of climate change, environmental policy and affordability affecting young people.
Harman Bhangu, a Conservative candidate in British Columbia who owns a trucking company, says some government policies dealing with climate change are hurting industries.
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Harman ran for the MLA in South Surrey. He is committed to fighting elite environmental policies that penalize workers.
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He recently had the support of Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad who was removed from the BC Liberal party for his social media posts questioning the science of climate change.
Bhangu said he is running to win and not to be a spoiler for the BC Liberals in the race.
Jason Pax will also be on the ballot as a representative of the Libertarian Party.
Driving test for BC Liberals
Telford said by-elections are often seen as a referendum on the incumbent government, but in the case of the Surrey South, if the NDP candidate wins, the contest could be a sign of trouble for the BC Liberals.
“If… the liberals lose that seat, I think that makes life a bit uncomfortable [Liberal Leader] Kevin Falcone because it’s traditionally a Liberal seat… With everything that’s going on with the healthcare crisis, the inflation crisis, if the Liberals lose that seat, I think it tells us more about this party than the NDP if they lose.”
Falcon won a seat in Vancouver-Quilchina during a by-election earlier this year.
If the Liberals win, a secondary election could allow the party to build momentum as the county approaches a general election in 2024.