British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Chilliwack-Kent riding profile

A look at Chilliwack-Kent, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

Laurie Throness may be better off due to changes in riding boundaries

The riding includes the western part of Chilliwack and the communities of Kent and Harrison Hot Springs. (Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Chilliwack-Kent, one of nine ridings in the Fraser Valley region — and one where the loss of Hope isn't a concern for the incumbent.

1. Chilliwack-Kent has one foot in the Lower Mainland, and one foot in the rest of the province. 

In British Columbia's first provincial election in 1871, there were just three MLAs elected for the entire Lower Mainland: one in New Westminster City, and two for "New Westminster", which basically meant everything from the Pacific Ocean to the gold rush town of Yale. 

Today, 48 of the province's 87 ridings are in the Lower Mainland — but the one furthest to the east still retains some of its character from over 140 years ago.

"Agassiz is all about farming, and there's a huge dairy and poultry contingent in Chilliwack," says Laurie Throness, Liberal MLA for Chilliwack-Hope. "We had the second highest farm gate receipts in B.C. last year."

2. With that more agrarian economy comes a more centre-right political culture.

Like most of the lower Fraser Valley, the area has supported centre-right and right-wing parties, both provincially and federally, for decades in general elections. 

"I think that has something to do with the tradition and the political stasis in the community," said Throness, explaining the historic conservative bend in the southeastern Fraser Valley. 

"More immigrants are moving into Chilliwack, and we are becoming more urban. But this is an area that is pretty stable, and doesn't change over a long period of time."

3. That is changing, however.

"Chilliwack is characterized by growth, and the problems associated by growth. It's growing by leaps and bounds, there's all sorts of businesses coming in, new truck stops, new manufacturing options," said Throness, who was formerly chief of staff for federal Conservative Chuck Strahl in a variety of ministries. 

"School crowding is an issue for young families. There's traffic congestion on the Trans Canada, there's house prices. Rental vacancies are an issue."

4. It's an area where the NDP has made history — but may be hard-pressed to do so again. 

The party won a 2012 byelection in Chilliwack-Hope, the first time the NDP ever won a seat in the lower Fraser Valley. But MLA Gwen O'Mahony was defeated in a rematch with Liberal candidate Laurie Throness a year later. 

Since then, the riding has changed names and boundaries, becoming Chilliwack-Kent — losing the municipality of Hope (which heavily supported O'Mahon in her win) to Fraser-Nicola, and gaining the area east of Vedder Road between Highway 1 and South Sumas that used to be part of the Chilliwack riding — and has traditionally been very favourable to the Liberals. 

"The riding will be about 70 per cent smaller than before, so in that sense, it will be easier to represent," said Throness.

"That new area of 5,000 people in Chilliwack, many of whom are retirees in gated communities, I have to get in and know those people."

5. Who is running against Throness?

The NDP candidate is Patti MacAhonic, the director for the local Ann Davis Transition Society. She ran for the party in Chilliwack in the 2013 election, a decision which led the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce to remove her as executive director. The Green candidate is Josie Bleuer, a firefighter for the City of Chilliwack. 

Throness says he isn't taking his re-election for granted.

"Not only the 2012 by-election, but you look at Brexit, you look at Trump, you look at Alberta and what happened with the NDP, and your realize that today's elections are more volatile than they have bene in the past. That's an unsettling feeling, but maybe it's a good feeling for a politician to have. It means that I'm going to be working hard."

6. Where does the NDP do well?  

It is competitive in the urban centre of Kent, along with southeast Sardis - but it did best in Hope, which is now part of the Fraser-Nicola riding. 

7. What about the Liberals? 

The farmland between the city areas of Chilliwack and the Agassiz bridge show consistent support for the party, with typically 55 to 75 per cent support for candidates. 

8. Throness is looking forward to the campaign — even with the occasional discussions with voters who disagree with him.

"I got into an argument with a guy when I was campaigning in a gated community," he said, recalling his most memorable door-knocking experiene.

"You're allowed to go in these communities, but this guy confronted on the street and said we don't want you here. I said I'm allowed to be here, this is the law. We sort of had it out there in the middle of the street. 

"I finally backed down. I thought 'maybe I'm legally right, but this is not politically beneficial.'"