Election drama in the Valley: Fast and Sidhu elected area MPs

Abbotsford's MP is now in Opposition, while Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon goes Liberal

Left: Abbotsford Conservative incumbent and trade minister MP Ed Fast won his seat

Abbotsford MP Ed Fast is returning to Ottawa, but he will be sitting on the Opposition benches for the first time since being elected to Parliament nine years ago.

The region won’t be without a Member of Parliament among the government ranks, however, as newcomer Jati Sidhu will sit among the majority Liberals as the representative for the newly formed Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding.

Incumbent Conservative MP Fast easily triumphed in the Abbotsford electoral district with 48 per cent of the vote. But that number was down significantly from the 65 per cent he won in 2011, and was indicative of a wave of support for the Liberals, who won 184 of 338 seats in the House of Commons.

That Liberal tide helped push Sidhu to a narrow victory over Conservative Brad Vis in Mission-Matsqui, which includes Mission and areas of Abbotsford north of Bateman and Maclure roads. For much of Monday evening, Sidhu and Vis were within hundreds of votes of each other, and both held the lead at different moments. It took until early Tuesday morning for Sidhu to build enough of a lead to have secured victory.

Fast, who watched the results at his South Fraser Way campaign office, said the outcome showed Canadians wanted something new.

“The results speak for themselves,” he told supporters. While he expressed skepticism that the Liberals could deliver on their promises, he said he wished the new government led by Justin Trudeau all the best and promised to continue working for Abbotsford.

“We Conservatives have a great story to tell, but tonight Canadians have decided they want to write a new story, and that’s the way of democracy,” he said.

Fast used the occasion to reflect on the successes of his government. As Minister of International Trade, Fast led Canada’s negotiating team on several major trade deals, including the recently agreed-to Trans-Pacific Partnership, which must still be ratified by Parliament.

“I’m hoping that the new government will build upon that success and draw upon my experience as they see fit,” he said.

Outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper resigned his leadership of the Conservative party after Monday’s defeat, and Fast said it’s unclear what his own role will be when Parliament reconvenes. But speaking to supporters, Fast pledged “you will have a voice in Ottawa to ensure Abbotsford receives its share of federal government investments.”

Fast’s nearest competitor, Liberal Peter Njenga, received 33 per cent of the vote, despite not appearing at all-candidates meetings. NDP candidate Jen Martel garnered 14 per cent. As local Liberals watched results come in at Sidhu’s event at the Abbotsford Banquet Hall, Njenga was conspicuously absent.

“I haven’t seen him in awhile,” said Njenga’s campaign manager. He clarified that by “awhile,” he meant a couple of days, and added, “I hope to bump into him.”

Martel, meanwhile, conceded “the voters have made their decision,” adding, “I really enjoyed meeting voters and hearing their stories, and to see so many young voters showing up was so inspiring and so encouraging.”

The decision in the nearby riding of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon wasn’t so clear.

Most of the attention was on Sidhu and the tight race he was in with Vis throughout the night. Sidhu led by fewer than 500 votes for much of the evening, but there were moments when it looked like Vis might prevail. As the clocked neared 11 p.m. – with three-quarters of polls reporting and four hours after the last voter had cast a ballot – Vis pulled into a narrow lead.

A winner wasn’t declared until just before 1 a.m., making it the last undecided riding in the country. Sidhu would eventually garner 37 per cent of the vote, compared to Vis’s 35 per cent. NDP candidate Dennis Adamson finished a strong third, with 21 per cent of ballots.

Around 100 Sidhu supporters remained at the Abbotsford Banquet Hall as the votes were counted, and listened as he gave his victory speech.

“It’s exhilarating. The fruit ripens when it stays longer on the vine,” he told supporters. He cited agricultural sustainability and infrastructure as two key issues as he prepared to represent his sprawling riding, which also includes much of the Eastern Fraser Valley and the Fraser Canyon.

“Being a farmer, I’ll have to look after agricultural sustainability. And infrastructure – that’s another goal I have in mind,” Sidhu said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to be spending a lot of money on roads and bridges, I’d love to work with the municipalities and local government to make that happen.”

As Sidhu pulled into the lead, Vis had taken the stage in Mission for a tearful concession speech more than an hour earlier.

“We are devastated, but life is bigger than the political race and who runs government,” Vis told supporters.

NDP candidate Adamson said he was surprised by how the race turned out. The overall results, he told The News, “are not what I wanted. But people have the right to choose.”

A small slice of rural Abbotsford – west of Mount Lehman Road south of Highway 1, and west of Bradner Road north of the highway – is included in the Langley-Aldergrove electoral district. Incumbent Conservative MP Mark Warawa was re-elected in that riding with 45.5 per cent of the vote. Liberal Leon Jensen finished with 36.5 per cent of ballots, while the NDP’s Margot Sangster received 12.8 per cent of votes cast.

Turnout was up across the country as a close election saw more than 70 per cent of Canadians cast ballots – the best turnout since 1993. Locally, 71.3 per cent of eligible Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon residents cast ballots and 70.4 per cent of Abbotsford riding electors voted. That Abbotsford turnout was an increase over the 59.7 per cent turnout from 2011. In Langley-Aldergrove, the turnout was 73.5 per cent.

– with files from Laura Rodgers and Vikki Hopes

(Photo below by Vikki Hopes: Conservative candidate Brad Vis, with wife Kat, greets supporters during his concession speech Monday night at the Elks Hall in Mission.)

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