With the B.C. provincial election underway today, we’re taking a look at what are shaping up to be some of the hottest battlegrounds in the campaign.
First up, we’re putting the spotlight on one of 2013’s tightest races, featuring a high-profile cabinet minister, and an opposition contender looking to win his old seat back.
BC Liberals: Peter Fassbender
BC NDP: Jagrup Brar
BC Green: Tim Binnema
Why we’re watching
Everyone loves a rematch.
A compact, ethnically diverse suburban riding with a large South Asian population, Surrey-Fleetwood was one of the most closely contested battles of the 2013 campaign and saw TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender unseat then-incumbent MLA Jagrup Brar by a margin of just 200 votes.
They’re back at it this time around.
But to further add to the drama, the riding boundaries were altered in the 2015 electoral redistricting, adding portions of Surrey-Newton and Surrey-Green Timbers that both favoured the NDP last time around while losing a portion that broke Liberal to Surrey-Cloverdale.
Fassbender, a former Langley City Mayor, is one of the better-known faces in the Liberal Cabinet, having served as Education Minister during the teachers’ strike, and now as minister responsible for TransLink and ride-sharing.
Brar, too, is a well-known face fighting on home turf.
He served as MLA for Surrey-Panorama Ridge from 2004-2009, before winning Surrey-Fleetwood when it was created in 2008.
Before politics, he made his name as the executive director of the non-profit Surrey Self Employment and Entrepreneur Development Society.
The Greens’ Binnema, an engineering manager, has a far lower profile by contrast – but having pulled in more than five per cent of the 2013 vote could be the difference maker.
The NDP need to pick up 10 seats if they hope to form government, and Fleetwood is virtually a must-win if they hope to make that happen.
As a sign of just how seriously the two major parties are taking the race for this seat, Fassbender was one of the first MLAs to open a campaign office in his riding.
Fassbender put up a fresh coat of paint all the way back in September, while Brar was on the street door knocking that same month.
In many ways, Surrey-Fleetwood is a microcosm of other urban ridings, with transportation and affordability questions rising to the top of the list of concerns.
Gord Anderson with the Fleetwood Community Association says pledges to develop mass transit will be a key issue, particularly around extending the planned light rail system down Fraser Highway.
“What we’re pushing for in Fleetwood is to have the one line that goes from downtown Surrey, and would connect to Langley, but in light rail, not in SkyTrain,” says Anderson.
The current plans for the light rail L-Line will link Surrey City Centre with Newton and Guildford, but won’t touch Fleetwood.
Sandeep Gill with the Fleetwood Business Improvement Association says shopkeepers are also anxious to see a Fleetwood LRT line built.
But he says, for the business community, issue number one is crime and safety.
“By safety, I mean just a general heightened level of security for the local businesses in the form of higher level of policing in the area generally to ward off potential vandalisms, robberies,
burglaries – anything along those lines.”
The NDP have already begun campaigning on that point, with leader John Horgan visiting Fleetwood Park Secondary last month to pitch a $500,000 boost to the Surrey Wraparound program which aims to keep kids out of gang life.
Along with crime and transit, Gill says the business community is also concerned about homelessness in the area, and keeping the area neat.
With Surrey’s schools bursting at the seams, expect education to also be a top campaign issue.
Anderson says the rapid densification of the area has many parents worried there won’t be space for their kids.
“Because it’s been developing at quite a rapid pace, a lot of people in the community that approach the Fleetwood Community Association have brought up the concern… where are the schools going to come from?”
It’s an issue the governing Liberals are clearly sensitive to, offering up $217-million back in January which it says will create more than 5,000 student spaces.
In a community where Anderson says the price of a detached home has skyrocketed from around $700,000 to up to $1.2-million, he says housing affordability is also becoming a top issue for area’s growing younger population.
“You know my daughter’s age. Because they go, you know, ‘we’ll never be able to afford and buy a house.’ The simple townhouse now is $400,000 for just the basic one, where just a few years ago it was $300,000.”
Surrey-Fleetwood residents go to the polls May 9.