Even as Gordie Hogg prepares to go to Ottawa as South Surrey-White Rock's new Liberal MP, he is warning his party against drawing assumptions from his milestone by-election win about its prospects of holding or bolstering its B.C. ranks in the next federal election in 2019.
"No doubt it's a positive statement," Mr. Hogg said of his win by about 1,600 votes over Conservative Kerry-Lynne Findlay, a national revenue minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper. "What that means in terms of the future? I don't know the answer to that."
On Tuesday, Mr. Hogg was crediting his personal profile, campaign team, shifting demographics and two campaign visits by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for tipping things the Liberal way in an area of the Lower Mainland that has not elected Liberals in decades. The South Surrey-White Rock area has tended to send conservative-minded politicians to Ottawa, most recently former Conservative MP Dianne Watts.
Among the four federal by-elections across Canada held Monday, the South Surrey-White Rock race was a notable wild card because it was close in 2015 when Ms. Watts won by about 1,500 votes over the Liberal candidate.
That narrow 2015 win meant an all-out fight this year when Ms. Watts precipitated a by-election by quitting the seat to seek the leadership of the BC Liberals. Mr. Hogg was a cabinet minister in governments of the BC Liberals, who have no connections with their federal namesake.
Mr. Trudeau and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, each visited the riding twice for campaign events. With the NDP coming in a distant third in 2015, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not visit to make the case for the NDP candidate.
While Mr. Hogg was wary about grand forecasts, the Liberals and Conservatives seized on the outcome of the by-election, with its turnout of about 38 per cent, to speculate on its significance.
Braeden Caley, senior federal Liberal communications director, said in a statement that B.C. is now represented by 18 Liberal MPs – out of 42 seats – as a result of the work of party volunteers, "and that hard work to keep earning the support of British Columbians and all Canadians will continue in earnest on the road to the next election in 2019."
Cory Hann, communications director for the Tories, said in his own statement that the party knew it was facing a tough fight in South Surrey-White Rock given the 2015 results.
"The Conservative Party was the only party to make gains nationwide, and like any good hockey team, Conservatives know that going down a goal in the first period just means we have to work even harder going forward."
On Tuesday, Ms. Findlay declined an interview.
Mr. Hogg, 71, said his local profile likely helped clinch the seat. In addition to his work in provincial politics, he is also known for being a councillor in White Rock as well as serving as mayor of the seaside community. "One of the things for this riding that was quite meaningful for me was a number of people who were supporting me as opposed to political parties," he said.
Political scientist Hamish Telford said Mr. Hogg was making a valid point.
"But I think it also has something to do with Trudeau just being much better known than Andrew Scheer and still, evidently, well liked," said Mr. Telford, an academic at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Mr. Telford said it does not appear that scandals around, for example, Finance Minister Bill Morneau's management of his personal assets, hurt. "Voters seemed to have been tuning out the scandals. It's all inside Ottawa."
He said it's clear, from the by-election, that there's a lesson for Mr. Scheer. "If he didn't know it already, he has his work cut out for him. Certainly back in 2015, the Conservatives underestimated Justin Trudeau. They still love to mock him and there still might be some underestimating him as a leader and as a campaigner."