B.C. Votes 2017: Langley East riding profile
The riding's name is new, but the favourite to win is a very familiar face
In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Langley East, one of nine ridings in the Fraser Valley region — and one right in the middle of the Liberal Party's power base.
1. There's only one person in the Lower Mainland who has been in cabinet every day of the B.C. Liberal Party's 15-plus years in power, and that's Rich Coleman.
In the 15 years, he's been minister of public safety and solicitor general (three times), minister of housing and social development, minister responsible for housing, minister of forests, and for the last five years, minister of energy and mines, while being Deputy Leader the last four years.
2. After five terms as the MLA, Coleman is a known commodity to voters.
"When you knock on doors and go to community events, it's kind of fun now, because there's a lot of people I've known for a long time, having moved and been here since 1984," said Coleman, who hasn't faced a serious challenge in any of his prior victories.
"I've seen a lot of families and kids grow up, so it's really, sometimes, really enjoyable just to talk to people," he said, adding that he expects to focus more of his campaigning in the fast-growing Willoughby neighbourhood, where he has less name recognition than other areas.
After five victories in Fort Langley-Aldergrove, the riding's boundaries have changed — and so has its name.
3. The unique zoning of the Township of Langley helps define its political culture.
"Because of the Agricultural Land Reserve, you have very distinct urban communities within Langley," said Jordan Bateman, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation director who previously served as a councillor in the Township of Langley.
"Unlike Vancouver, where they border each other, there is a bit of gap between them."
It creates small communities with different demographic breakdowns, but each with a unique suburban culture, linked together by the common denominator of (relative) affordability.
"That's why I ended up in Aldergrove, it's where I could afford to buy a home," said Coleman. "We ended up staying here, because we got into the community, and non-profits and made friends.
"Single-family homes have gone up like everywhere, but I know young people who have gotten into the market with low-rise apartments or townhomes ... there's still a lot of that available for people here."
4. There are plenty of other reasons the party has dominated here.
First, the party is remarkably stable with its candidates: Coleman has been an MLA since 1996. To the east, Finance Minister Mike De Jong has been in office since 1995, and Mary Polak to the west since 2005. The region rarely has the sort of emotional policy debates around industry, crime, education or health care that cause political divides in the rest of B.C.
"There is a very strong religious base, particularly Christian base, from Langley out to Chilliwack, so there's a strong historic link with the business and Mennonite community here, who really have built the Fraser Valley," said Coleman.
"There just seems to be a very significant, almost pioneer-values, here."
5. Boundary changes make this riding even friendlier to the Liberals.
Because the two exisiting Langley ridings had become too big, this riding no longer goes to 276th Street south of Highway 1, but instead to 248th Street, putting Aldergrove — a swing area politically — into Abbotsford South.
Meanwhile, Langley East also picks up the suburban Murrayville neighbourhood directly east of the City of Langley, which had heavily supported Mary Polak and the Liberals in recent elections.
"Coleman's riding goes from one of the seven safest Liberals to becoming one the three safest," said Bateman.
The NDP and Green Party nominated their candidates in late March: for the NDP, Inder Johal, a communications coordinator for the Kwantlen Public Interest Research Group and for the Greens, Bill Masse, the former chief fisheries negotiator for the DFO.
6. Where does the NDP do well?
The NDP has only won a single polling station in this area in each of the last two elections: Langley Grove Estates, a manufactured home community just off 244th Street and the Fraser Highway. But the margin isn't big: NDP candidate Shane Dyson defeated Coleman by four votes here in 2013: 42 to 38.
7. What about the Liberals?
Considering they won every other polling station in the last two elections, "everywhere" would be an accurate answer. But Coleman did particularly well between Highway 1 and the Fraser River.
8. Still, Coleman doesn't take the campaign for granted.
Coleman is once again the co-chair of the party's campaign, and estimates he'll spend about 50 to 60 per cent of his time doing local campaigning. He knows the importance of hitting as many doors as he can — even when he can predict the result.
"I do have a neighbourhood I used to live in Aldergrove, spent 24 years in the same house, and there were some NDPers ... and I always make a point at the beginning of the campaign to go knock on their door," said Coleman.
"My biggest break-even was I got the husband to take a Liberal sign, and his wife had an NDP sign. It's a fun thing, I come back and say 'You're still NDP?' Some people you don't convince, but you can still be civil about it."
With files from Richard Zussman