British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Abbotsford West riding profile

A look at Abbotsford West, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong, one of the longest-serving MLAs in B.C., seeks another victory

(Elections BC)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Abbotsford West, one of three ridings in Abbotsford — and right in the middle of a region that has never been friendly towards the NDP.

1. The only time west Abbotsford changed parties in the last 60 years was perhaps the most important byelection in B.C. political history.

The year was 1994. The Social Credit Party had led British Columbia for 36 of the previous 39 years.

They had been reduced to just seven seats in the legislature three years before, while the long-dormant B.C. Liberal Party surged to 17 seats.   

But who would be the main "free enterprise" party in B.C. going forward was still an open question.

The Socreds were hopeful the much-respected Grace McCarthy, who had taken over as leader, could win a byelection to get into the legislature and rally the party — as she had when they were last out of power in the early 1970s. 

The party had held the region for the previous 42 years, but McCarthy lost to an unheralded 30-year-old school board trustee by just 42 votes.

Within 100 days, half of the remaining Socred MLAs defected to the Reform Party, McCarthy resigned, and the Liberals consolidated their grip as the new dominant party on the centre-right of British Columbia's political spectrum. 

So you could say Mike de Jong's first provincial election was significant. 

2. None of de Jong's subsequent wins have been nearly as dramatic. 

Since that 1994 win, the Minister of Finance has gotten at least 50 per cent of the vote in all five general elections — three of which came in the defunct ridings of Matsqui and Abbotsford-Mt. Lehman.

The NDP has never received more than 31 per cent, and their candidate this year, school trustee Preet Rai, received 27 per cent when he ran in Abbotsford-Mission last election.

Frank Bucholtz, a longtime editor and columnist in newspapers throughout the Fraser Valley, says that history may make it difficult for the NDP to recruit a high-profile candidate.

"I would be really surprised if he had much of a challenge. There's probably not too many people who want to be the sacrificial lamb against him," he said.

3. The demographics of western Abbotsford have changed significantly since de Jong took office.

The riding, which includes all parts of the city north of South Fraser Way and west of Sumas Way, has a significant South Asian population — more people have a mother tongue other than English here than any other Fraser Valley riding. 

Abbotsford has become more urban. The city government has had conflicts with a growing homeless population, and the median income in the riding is the lowest of the three Abbotsford ridings.

"The demographics of the city have changed dramatically, but the voting patterns haven't," Bucholtz said. 

4. Still, the riding is shifting ever-so-slightly leftward 

In the 2015 federal election, the federal Liberals won more polling stations west of Clearbrook Road than the Conservative Party within city boundaries.

They got more than 70 per cent of the vote in some of the polling stations.

And in that election, the Liberals won Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon — the first time they had won a seat in that region since 1968.   

5. De Jong's personal popularity may blunt any NDP advances, however. 

"I think anyone who's a cabinet minister doesn't have as much time to spend in the riding as an MLA who isn't in cabinet," Bucholtz said.

"But he spends quite a bit of time being active in the community." 

Bucholtz says the B.C. Liberals have done an effective job in the Fraser Valley of keeping federal Liberals on their team, particularly from the South Asian community. 

"De Jong has been working on that for more than 20 years," Bucholtz said. 

6. Where does the NDP do the best?

In the neighbourhoods of Townline and West Clearbrook the party is very competitive.

If there was an individual riding for the northwest quadrant of the city, the NDP would likely target it as a swing seat.

7. What about the B.C. Liberals?

The riding isn't just urban areas — it also includes rural farmland area to the north and west. There the Liberals win polling stations with 60 to 80 per cent of the vote.  

8. Add it up, and De Jong is the heavy favourite to win a lucky seventh term.

Bucholtz says for the NDP to win in Abbotsford West, three things would have to take place.

First, the B.C. Liberals would have to suffer a major scandal, either locally or provincially. Second, the political culture would have to shift further in the urban centre.

And finally, the NDP would have to have a really strong candidate to compete with de Jong's name recognition.  

It could happen — but it isn't likely in 2017. 

"I just don't see that," says Bucholtz. "I just don't think it's there."

Who's running in the 2017 British Columbia election?