Tell me who’s going to win the provincial election in Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Kent, and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong.
I don’t know who is going to win in either local riding, but what I’m certain of is that no one does.
Uncertainty prevails in what has to be one of the most unusual elections in a long time, locally and provincewide.
I’m a relative newbie in town, but in the 14-and-a-half years I’ve lived in Chilliwack, I’ve covered 15 elections – five federal, five provincial, five municipal (including byelections) – the results of which were usually predictable.
Federally, someone named Strahl handily wins for the Conservatives, while New Democrats and Liberals pick up the scraps.
Municipally – city council and school board mini-oddities notwithstanding – we’ve only had one wild ride for the mayor’s seat (2018) in the last four elections.
And provincially, in 2009, 2013 and 2017, (and many before that) the two local electoral districts were easy safe seats for the BC Liberals. There was 2012, which was an anomaly in the Eastern Fraser Valley, as Barry Penner resigned the riding (known then as Chilliwack-Hope) forcing a byelection. With a very low 41 per cent turnout, and with an upstart BC Conservative John Martin in the race taking 25 per cent of the votes, he split the “right” as BC Liberal Laurie Throness took 32 per cent making it a cake walk for the NDP’s Gwen O’Mahony to win with 42 per cent of the few votes cast.
An NDP MLA in this neck of the woods was a shock, and lasted just 13 months until the May 2013 general election where Throness won the seat. He won it again in 2017.
(A reminder to those not paying close attention, something I often have to explain to new British Columbians and others who should know better: BC Liberals are not the same or even connected to federal Liberals. “BC Liberal” is Gordon Campbell branding from the mid-1990s and, in the Fraser Valley at least, BC Liberals are more closely aligned with federal Conservatives. In 2013, for example, the local BC Liberal campaign for Throness ran full-page ads with the endorsement of Conservative MP Chuck Strahl.)
Back to the future in Chilliwack-Kent: Throness was booted out of the BC Liberal caucus at the too-late last minute. That means his name appears on the ballot as a BC Liberal, but he will sit as an Independent if he wins. He’s up against popular city councillor Jason Lum running as an Independent, and the NDP’s Kelli Paddon.
Who will win? As I said in a radio interview lately, I don’t make predictions. One political insider I talked to, however, who likes to do informal polls and make predictions, has the three candidates at a dead heat with Lum, Paddon and Throness each receiving between 30 and 32 per cent of votes.
In Chilliwack: Incumbent BC Liberal John Martin would be the presumptive winner if it wasn’t for Diane Janzen who spent the last year trying to contend for the BC Liberal nomination, only to switch to the BC Conservatives at the last moment when told there would be no nomination meeting. Now Janzen is preaching: “Don’t split the right, vote right.”
It doesn’t take a political scientist to entertain the possibility that the Martin-Throness sparring on the political right in 2012 that earned New Democrat Gwen O’Mahony a byelection victory could rear its head again in 2020 with Janzen-Martin sparring, leading to another vote split and a victory by Dan Coulter, the NDP candidate.
Voter turnout in the last three general elections in the local ridings has been between 52 and 56 per cent. Even at 56 per cent, that means roughly 24,000 people don’t vote. While Throness won the 2017 election by a whopping 53 per cent of votes cast over Patti MacAhonic’s 32 per cent, Throness received 11,841 votes, less than half of those who didn’t even vote at all.
In many elections, it really can feel to some people that their votes don’t seem to count because of some predictable inevitability.
But with presumptive three-way races in both Chilliwack and Chilliwack-Kent, it’s safe to say this time that every single vote will count.
If you haven’t already, go vote, please.
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