A byelection in Surrey South on Sept. 10 is shaping up to be a battle over which provincial political party is perceived as the front-runner on health care.
B.C. Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadieux won the last election in 2020 with 1,176 more votes than the nearest candidate, B.C. NDP’s Pauline Greaves. Cadieux resigned at the end of April to join the federal government as Canada’s first chief accessibility officer.
Now Greaves, who teaches business at the Langara School of Management, is running again with the help of high-profile NDP MLAs including Health Minister Adrian Dix.
On Monday, NDP leadership candidate David Eby joined Greaves at an announcement promoting a new hospital in the Cloverdale area of Surrey.
The NDP government has promised a second hospital in Surrey, at a cost of $1.7 billion, to be built near Kwantlen Polytechnic University and 180th Street. They say it would include 168 beds, an emergency room with 55 spaces and operating rooms.
Greaves said when B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon was finance minister in 2012, he sold land that had been designated for a second hospital.
“For too long, the people of Surrey and Cloverdale have been waiting for a second hospital,” said Greaves.
Liberals, NDP also battle over Massey Tunnel
She is up against Liberal candidate Elenore Sturko, a well-known Surrey RCMP sergeant and media spokesperson who is now on leave from work.
Sturko was introduced as the party’s star candidate back in May. On Friday, Sturko said the proposed hospital should be built in a different location near the planned Langley-Surrey SkyTrain extension along Fraser Highway because it is more accessible.
“We would like to see a full-service hospital that means a maternity ward, ICU, more beds than 168. One-hundred-and-sixty-eight beds is not enough to make it a full-size hospital in our opinion,” Sturko explained.
Sturko, if elected, also wants to advocate for a bridge over the Fraser River to replace the aging Massey Tunnel. That differs from the government’s current plan to dig an eight-lane tunnel under the river. Liberals argue a new tunnel will not meet environmental standards and will cause traffic congestion for Surrey South commuters for years to come.
Political scientist Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley says the government’s decision to schedule the byelection on Sept. 10 appears to be a strategic move to hold it at a busy time. It falls just after the first week of school and on the same day the federal Conservative Party will announce the results of its mail-in leadership vote.
“So it’s almost like the NDP didn’t want anyone to notice this race was happening, perhaps their voters would come out and Liberal voters wouldn’t know,” Telford said.
In a tight race, the support gained by the B.C. Greens or the B.C. Conservatives could also play a role in deciding the winner.
Simon Fraser University student Simran Sarai said she put her name forward as a Green candidate because she’s concerned about climate change, environmental policy and affordability issues that affect younger people.
B.C. Conservative candidate Harman Bhangu, who owns a trucking business, says some government policies dealing with climate change are harming industries.
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He recently gained support from Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad who was removed from the B.C. Liberal caucus for his social media posts questioning climate change science.
Bhangu said he is running to win and not to act as a spoiler for the B.C. Liberals in the race.
Jason Bax will also be on the ballot representing the Libertarian Party.
Leadership test for B.C. Liberals
Telford said byelections are often viewed as a referendum on the current government, but in the case of Surrey South, if the NDP candidate wins then the contest could be a sign of trouble for the B.C. Liberals.
“If … the Liberals lose this seat I think that makes life a little bit more uncomfortable for [Liberal Leader] Kevin Falcon because it’s traditionally a Liberal seat… With everything going on with the health-care crisis, the inflation crisis, if the Liberals lose this seat I think it tells us something more about that party than the NDP if they lose.”
Falcon won a seat in Vancouver-Quilchena during a byelection earlier this year.
If the Liberals win, the byelection could allow the party to build momentum as the province inches closer to a general election in 2024.