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The Globe and Mail

Conservatives see opportunity for momentum in B.C. by-election

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, right, campaigns with South Surrey-White Rock Conservative by-election candidate Kerry-Lynne Findlay in Surrey, B.C., on Dec. 4, 2017.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay says she sees a bigger dynamic at play in the outcome of next week's South Surrey-White Rock by-election than who voters send to Ottawa.

With a general election coming in 2019, the Conservative candidate says a win could bode well for her party, which is looking to regain seats it lost in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada in the previous federal election.

"One could see that winning here could help build momentum towards that 2019 run," the former national revenue minister said in an interview.

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Conservative Dianne Watts prompted Monday's by-election by quitting the seat to seek the leadership of the BC Liberals, an informal coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives – the two parties fighting for the riding.

Ms. Watts won South Surrey-White Rock, southeast of Vancouver, in the 2015 election by such a narrow margin over her Liberal opponent – 1,439 votes or about 3 per cent of the vote – that both parties believe they have a chance of winning the seat now.

Voters are also going to the polls Monday for by-elections in the Newfoundland riding of Bonavista-Burin Trinity, Saskatchewan's Battlefords-Lloydminster and east Toronto's Scarborough-Agincourt. But, distinct among them, South Surrey-White Rock is too close to call.

"We're going to have to work our butts off right until the end," said former BC Liberal cabinet minister Gordon Hogg, acclaimed as the federal Liberal candidate in the riding created by redistribution ahead of the 2015 election. In previous configurations, the riding has tended to support conservative parties.

The close Tory-Liberal record in the riding has Liberals and Tories rolling in their biggest political guns. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Tory Leader Andrew Scheer have each visited twice. But there has been no sign of federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The NDP won about 10 per cent of the vote in 2015.

During a party fundraiser last month at a downtown hotel, Mr. Trudeau gave a shout-out to Mr. Hogg, 71, alluding to his 20-year record as a member of the B.C. legislature and 10 years as mayor of White Rock, a seaside community in the riding. "Gordie? Where are you, Gordie?" Mr. Trudeau said. "Come Dec. 11, he will make an excellent MP."

Mr. Trudeau noted that British Columbia elected 17 Liberal MPs – the most in Canadian history – in the 2015 federal election. "Let's break our own record and make sure, we have 18." Mr. Trudeau said the path ahead includes taking care of Dec. 11 and then gearing up for 2019.

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In his riding visits, Mr. Trudeau drew hundreds of spectators. However, Ms. Findlay shrugged off the attention. "He's the Prime Minister so there's always going to be interest," she said. "It's not very often that the Prime Minister comes to town."

In a statement, Mr. Scheer said Mr. Hogg, as an MP, would have voted with Liberals against such measures as seeking transparency from Finance Minister Bill Morneau on questions around his personal finances and the 2016 Conservative motion to condemn violence by the Islamic State as genocide (the Liberal government instead referred the issue to the United Nations for a determination).

"What South Surrey-White Rock needs is a representative that will stand up against poor decisions from the Ottawa Liberals, not stand with them, and Kerry-Lynne Findlay will be that strong representative."

Responding to a survey in the Peace Arch News newspaper, Ms. Findlay said key issues in the riding include affordability for seniors, taxes on "working families" and local businesses and concerns about eligibility criteria for the federal disability tax credit, affecting those with diabetes. Among the issues Mr. Hogg cited were affordable housing, transit and crime reduction.

Mr. Hogg said he could best serve the community by joining them in government. "I've been in opposition and I've been in government and I know that, in opposition, you spend a lot of time trying to do things that has no impact."

Ms. Findlay, 62, said she is offering Ottawa experience. In 2015, she was defeated in nearby Delta by current Liberal cabinet minister Carla Qualtrough. She says she decided to run again because she thought she had the credentials to hold the Liberals to account. "This is a place where I can show leadership because of my past experience," she said.

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During this campaign, she says the Tories are appealing to their base, but also trying to win back Tories who gave the Liberals a try in 2015 as well as Liberals disaffected by aspects of Mr. Trudeau's record in power.

"By-elections don't come up that often. … By-elections tend to be a referendum on the governing party. It's an opportunity, without a change in government, for people to comment on the direction of the governing party," she said.

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