British Columbia·Analysis

Portables, patients and the Port Mann Bridge: How the NDP conquered Surrey

For years, Surrey residents have felt overtaxed and underserved. The NDP tapped into their anger and won every swing riding south of the Fraser.

All swing ridings south of the Fraser went to the NDP

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan makes his final stop of the election campaign on the side of 152 Street near 108 Avenue in Surrey. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The very last campaign stop B.C. NDP leader John Horgan made was Monday night in Surrey, where he stood shoulder to shoulder with Surrey-Guildford candidate Garry Begg on the corner of 152 Street and 108 Avenue.

They were were joined by a couple of dozen supporters, many of whom held signs that said, "End Tolls. Vote NDP."

The strategy was simple, brilliant and effective.

The signs were spotted by thousands of rush hour commuters, on the eve of the election, who had just paid a toll to cross the Port Mann Bridge.

"It was huge," Begg said.

"I think there was this feeling that we were being ignored by the provincial government. We thought we were paying an unnecessary tax [bridge tolls] that other residents of the province weren't expected to pay, so it had a tremendous impact on the voters south of the Fraser."

Kwantlen Polytechnic University Professor Shinder Purewal says nothing gets Surrey residents more fired up than tolls.

"If you look at the immediate, eye-catching move, it was the toll issue," Purewal said. "People drive across the bridge every day and they think about it every single day."

But the NDP also recognized two other top issues in Surrey were crowded schools and an aging hospital, and promised to address them by getting rid of school portables and building a new hospital in Surrey, says Purewal,

"People in this region thought we are having tax after tax after tax, yet we are not receiving those tax dollars," he said.

Falling Liberals

Surrey-Guildford NDP candidate Garry Begg stands beside B.C. NDP leader John Horgan in Surrey on the last day of the campaign. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Purewal's analysis appears to be bang on.

The NDP won most of the seats in Surrey and all swing ridings south of the Fraser swung to the NDP.

Liberal cabinet ministers Amrik Virk and Peter Fassbender were both defeated.

In the riding of Delta-North, New Democrat Ravi Kahlon beat Liberal incumbent Scott Hamilton.

On the opposite side of Metro Vancouver's only other tolled bridge, the Golden Ears, the New Democrats were just as successful.

Liberal MLAs Marc Dalton and Doug Bing lost their seats to the NDP in Maple Ridge-Mission and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Hit them where it hurts

It's not as if the Liberals didn't notice the anger commuters were feeling.

Very early in the campaign the party promised to introduce a cap on tolls to ensure drivers wouldn't have to pay more than $500 a year.

The announcement was supposed to be the centrepiece of the Liberal plan to attract voters who were sick of paying to cross bridges.

Unfortunately for the Liberals, the NDP came out later that afternoon and said they would wipe out tolls altogether.

Horgan immediately gained support south of the Fraser, in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, and the move freed him up to repeatedly fire off one of his favourite digs of the campaign.

"If people don't have to pay a toll to cross a bridge in Christy Clark's home riding in Kelowna, they shouldn't have to pay a toll on the Port Mann or Golden Ears," Horgan said at campaign events all over B.C.

Again, the strategy was simple, brilliant and effective.

Horgan knew his party never had much of a shot at winning in West Kelowna so had nothing to lose by suggesting that Clark's constituents in the Okanagan were getting a free ride.

Begg says the strategy clearly worked, sealing his own victory at the polls.

"The proof is in the pudding," he said.

About the Author

Jesse Johnston covers stories South of the Fraser. Catch him on The Early Edition every Wednesday at 7:40 a.m. @Jesse_Johnston

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