2017 British Columbia election: Abbotsford South riding profile

2017 British Columbia election: Abbotsford South riding profile

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Abbotsford South, one of three ridings in Abbotsford — and like the rest of them, a place where the NDP have historically struggled.

1. Darryl Plecas knows this campaign will be a little different compared to four years ago.

Then, he was up against John van Dongen, the longtime MLA who was running as an independent after leaving the B.C. Liberals. His nomination caused the riding association's board to resign en masse. The Liberals were so far down in the polls that there were real questions whether they could hold onto their traditional strongholds in the Fraser Valley.

Now?

"It's more pleasant so far," says the former high-profile criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley, who defeated van Dongen by nearly 5,000 votes.

"In some ways, I'm more concerned this time compared to last, because last time we were up against the wall. I wasn't expecting to win. This time, it feels more comfortable, I knock on doors and people are more positive, but I worry about apathy. If they get out and vote, it should turn out okay, but if they don't, it might be closer. So that's been the big message I've been trying to give people at political events."

2. But even in blowout ridings, people show up. 

If you live in Abbotsford, which has never elected an NDP MLA, never elected an NDP MP. A place where the B.C. Liberals have won every every election in the last 21 years by at least 4,500 votes, a place where even federally in 2015 the Conservative Party won by 7,500 votes, you might think voter apathy sets in.

But political scientist Hamish Telford, who lives in Plecas's riding, says that isn't the case.

"If you are a social democrat or Green Party member, you can be fairly certain [your candidate is] going to lose, even if they get your vote. No one has much incentive to vote, and we should see very low turnout in ridings like this, but in fact voter turnout is broadly comparable to what we get across the province," he said.

"People are remarkably civic-minded, even though it's a very safe seat and the outcome's almost a foregone conclusion." 

3. It's one of the reasons parties with no chance of winning will dutifully put out candidates.

With 50 days to go before the election, there were only four ridings in B.C. where neither the NDP or Green Party had chosen their candidate, and three of them were side-by-side in the Fraser Valley: Langley East, Langley Mission, and here in Abbotsford South.

"It's very important for a party's credibility to be seen running everywhere ... so they can claim credibly that they are a party of the province, and aiming to form a government, but I don't think they stand much of winning," said Telford.  

4. Still, there will be issues at the top of Plecas' mind during the election — including his ridings' new boundaries.  

The riding has lost areas north of Highway 1 and east of Sumas Way to Abbotsford-Mission, but extended westward to 248th Street, which means it now includes the community of Aldergrove.

"I'm always encouraging staff to think about how can we get out and connect to people who aren't part of the same 200 people," said Plecas, who says he hopes to use the campaign to establish links with prospective new constituents. 

"In academia, you're not thinking about that. Now, you see how important that is to connect with everyone ... you don't ever want a situation where the people of Aldergrove think 'gee, we're not getting enough attention.'" 

And in a riding that includes all of Highway 1 from Langley to Chilliwack, there are always calls to make six lanes in both directions happen sooner rather than later. 

"It's certainly my number one priority," said Plecas. "I'm someone who rides the freeway and sat for hours on end. I've been bugging the minister of transportation endlessly about seeing if we can make that happen. I'm fairly optimistic." 

5. Where does the NDP do the best?

It often wins a number of polling stations around West Clearbrook, along with the growing polling station of U-District to the immediate west of the University of the Fraser Valley. 

6. What about the B.C. Liberals?

Nearly everywhere, but rural farms outside the city, south of Highway 1, are particularly fertile ground for the party, with the NDP struggling to break 25 per cent in most polling stations. It also does very well in McMillan. 

7. There's one more reason Plecas is looking forward to the campaign.

"In this job, I've gained 28 pounds," he says with a laugh.

"I'm hoping that the walking and knocking on doors will offset that."