British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Surrey-Green Timbers riding profile

A look at Surrey-Green Timbers, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

For the first time in this riding's history, Sue Hammell will not be on the ballot

Surrey-Green Timbers only saw minor boundary changes from last election, losing the stretch of land between Bear Creek Park and 144th Street. (Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Surrey-Green Timbers, one of nine ridings in Surrey — and where a name won't appear on the ballot for the first time in over 30 years.

1. When asked if she has any regrets after 22 years of serving the people of Surrey-Green Timbers, Sue Hammell lists just one.

"I should have learned Punjabi," the NDP MLA said, while cleaning out her B.C. Legislature office for the final time in mid-March.

When the Surrey-Green Timbers riding was created prior to the 1991 election, immigrants made up 28.5 per cent of the population, and it was just starting to become the centre of B.C.'s Indo-Canadian community.

By 2006, half of the population were immigrants. In 2011, nearly half of the population said Punjabi was their mother tongue.

Through all of that, Hammell has run in every single provincial election, winning all but one by comfortable margins, but does wish she could have connected directly with more of the people that voted for her. 

"When you can talk to somebody, and you can actually understand them, you can communicate in a much better way. I can listen, if I'm very careful I can sometimes follow the conversation, but that is my regret."    

2. Her likely successor won't have the same regret.

Hammell was one of three MLAs who had run in every provincial election since 1991, but in January announced she wouldn't run again so she could tend to her husband's serious illness. 

By the end of the month, the NDP announced her replacement: Rachna Singh, a CUPE employee and wife of Gurpreet Singh, a high-profile broadcaster in Surrey's ethnic media.

"She's fully fluent in Punjab and English. She'll be able to communicate on a bigger and more rounder level with constituents," said Hammell.  

The Green Party candidate is Saira Aujla, a real estate agent who had the most votes of any independent council candidate in the 2014 municipal election. 

3. Hammell isn't running, but there will be a Green Timbers MLA on the ballot.

The only time Hammell lost in Green Timbers was in 2001 to B.C. Liberal candidate Brenda Locke — and the party announced in March that Locke would once again be their candidate. 

That's doesn't necessarily mean her name has much electoral cachet, however: she lost to Hammell in 2005, lost as a federal Liberal in the 2006 and 2008 elections to Conservative Nina Grewal, and fell well short in her 2014 campaign for city council as an independent.

4. Demographics aren't the only thing that has changed in Surrey during Hammell's tenure.

In 1991, Green Timbers was one of five Surrey ridings in a city of 245,000 people. Today it's one of nine ridings in a city of over 517,000 people. 

But while the urban issues of Surrey — transportation, crime, development and so much more — have evolved, the size of Hammell's riding hasn't changed too much, only shifting slightly south over the decades so that Green Timbers Park is the northeast corner of the riding, rather than the centre.

"The complexity of the constituency has changed, but it's still very much a regular area. There's not huge vistas, regular working class people live and work there, many have arrived from somewhere and will move on to somewhere else."    

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

In a part of Surrey that is relatively older and working class, their strength has historically been broad, rather than concentrated in one area, but they tend to do best in the half of the riding north of 88 Avenue.

6. What about the Liberals? 

There are two areas where the Liberals had some success in 2013 and 2005: the cul de sacs to the north of John Tompson park, and the area immediately north of Newton Athletic Park. 

7. Hammell knows there will be an adjustment period after May — for her returning to private life, for the MLA replacing her, and for constituents so used to dealing with the same person.

"It's a change, and change is always somewhat uncomfortable," she said while cleaning out her office, pointing out some of the memorabilia she had collected over the years.

"You're taking yourself down in many ways. You've got things—  a bag there I got in Turkey when I was overseas doing work on behalf of women. A doll given to me by a women in Vancouver who've I've worked with. All these little things." 

"When you take it down, you know it'll never go up again in the same way."