British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Richmond North Centre riding profile

A look at Richmond North Centre, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

Minister of International Trade Teresa Wat seeks re-election in this diverse and fully urbanized riding

The new boundaries for the riding remove some areas to the south of Minoru Park, but adds the West Cambie neighbourhood between Sea Island and Highway 99. (Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Richmond North Centre, one of four ridings in Richmond — and one where the NDP hope to break a decades-long losing streak.

1. Teresa Wat is running in a new riding — but it doesn't change her electoral outlook.

Because of Richmond's population growth, the city gained one of the two additional ridings created in this election. Wat's old riding of Richmond Centre became Richmond North Centre, losing the densest area to the south and east of Minoru Park, but gaining the rest of the Cambie neighbourhood to the west of Highway 99. 

"Richmond Centre comprises mostly the city centre, and there's lots of high-rise  buildings coming up. The population is becoming denser and denser, so part of it was removed to make Richmond South Centre," said Wat, the former news director at OMNI before making the leap to politics. 

As Wat herself notes, Richmond has only elected B.C. Liberal candidates since 1991, and voters in this new riding gave B.C. Liberal candidates 53 per cent of the vote in 2013, compared to just 21.8 per cent for the NDP. 

"Historically, it's a strong B.C Liberal held riding, but we can't take that for granted."

2. Still, there are reasons to believe the Liberals will face more hurdles in Richmond this election than previous ones.

"Previous governments have taken Richmond for granted," said Coun. Harold Steves, who in 1972 became the only NDP MLA ever to be elected for the city. 

There has rarely been hot-button provincial policy issues in Richmond, which might be one reason why voters have been satisfied re-electing the Liberals the last three elections. 

But Steves believes the five elementary schools that were on the chopping block last year, along with the city's opposition to the Massey Bridge, could change things.

"Everyone in Richmond knows it's a bridge to industrialize the Fraser River. No one will admit to it, but the government says 'no, it's to alleviate traffic.' But it'll pile up the traffic at the Oak Street Bridge, and half the Richmond population commutes to Vancouver. It's not going to help Richmond, it's going to cause a lot of problems for it. 

3. Steves sees an opportunity in the area's historically low turnout rate.

In 2013, just 43.65 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot in Richmond Centre. That was the worst turnout in the province, and continued a trend where the riding was at or near the bottom each election. 

"New people coming into a community generally don't get involved in voting too much," he Steves.

"But you've got a lot of young people moving into the apartments, and that could be a game-changer …  I think there's much more interest from the immigration community than the past." 

4. Richmond Centre also had the highest percentage of native Chinese speakers in the province — and she believes the two facts are linked.

"For new immigrants, coming from Mainland China ... it's quite different from western democracy system. Many of them are quite concerned whether they should cast a vote, whether they'll be recorded who they vote for, and their might be consequences," said Wat, contrasting the newer wave of immigrants with arrivals from Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I keep reassuring them that this is a totally different system. I think slowly, I'm sure it it will change … Now there's over 100 Mainland China organizations. Those community leaders, they understand the importance of getting the community out to vote, because then you can show different political parties you can change the election results." 

5. Not that Wat herself will encourage new voters from casting a ballot for her competitors.

The NDP candidate is Lyren Chiu, a nursing instructor at Langara and former president of the Canadian Research Institute of Spirituality and Healing, who has made issue of the fact Wat lives in Burnaby.   

The Green Party candidate is Ryan Marciniw, an accounts representative with Yellow Pages Group. 

6. Where does the NDP do well? 

There are more airplanes than people who make Sea Island home, but those that do have given more votes to the NDP than Liberals the last three elections — the only place in this riding where that's the case.

7. Wat knows she'll face a very particular set of problems when campaigning.

"I have plenty of high-rise buildings, but it's almost impossible to get into any apartment, because the manager won't let you inside … that's why I need to go to the restaurants," the Minister of International Trade said, explaining her 2013 campaign strategy of going restaurant hopping almost as much as door knocking.

The only problem?

"There are so many good Chinese restaurants in my riding, that it attracts people from across Greater Vancouver to enjoy the good food. So I may only be interacting with 10 per cent of my constituents at any one time."

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