As 2019 dawns, politicians and their would-be replacements across the country are preparing for the federal election to come in the fall.
In the Fraser Valley, one seat in particular will be hotly contested as the Conservatives try to retake power from the governing Liberals.
In 2015, the last seat to be decided in the entire country was the new riding of Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, where Liberal Jati Sidhu narrowly defeated Conservative Brad Vis.
Sidhu’s win in a traditionally Conservative part of British Columbia was an indicator of the strength shown by the Liberals in 2015 as they claimed a decisive majority.
Sidhu and Vis are set for a rematch in 2019, and if the Conservatives stand any shot at pushing Justin Trudeau out of the Prime Minister’s office, they’ll almost certainly need to prevail in their traditional strongholds.
“If the Conservatives can’t win back Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, it would suggest that there is not much of a Conservative tide in the country,” said UFV political science professor Hamish Telford.
On the other hand, even if the Liberals are strong nationally, Sidhu could still have a battle on his hands to hold onto the massive riding – which stretches from Maclure Road in Abbotsford in the south, up to Mission and far beyond, all the way to Cache Creek and Lillooet.
Neither Vis nor Sidhu were household names when they ran for the seat in 2015.
Sidhu was a local businessman who had previously failed to win a seat on Abbotsford council, while Vis had worked for local MP Ed Fast and was chosen as the Conservatives’ local standard-bearer just a few months before election day after Liv Grewal’s nomination was rejected.
Both candidates have had much more time to prepare for the 2019 race. Sidhu has been a Member of Parliament for three years now, while Vis’s candidacy was announced way back in May.
(The Greens and NDP have not nominated candidates yet. A Green representative said the party’s nomination process “is in full swing.” The NDP did not respond to a request for comment.)
Vis said having the nomination process concluded has given the time needed to fully commit to run in the huge riding.
“There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm and I’m trying to tap into that and do my part on running an honest campaign,” he said.
Vis said crime, housing affordability, and the rollout of legal marijuana have been common complaints he has heard from constituents.
Sidhu told The News that he has enjoyed the last three years and is looking forward to the 2019 election.
He cited more than $150 million in federal funding for projects in his area, the largest chunk of which is going to widen Highway 7 between Mission, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
He said he has also heard concerns about housing affordability and crime, and said the federal government is working to address the issues.
Sidhu said he has also made a concerted effort to visit residents of far-flung communities in the gigantic riding.
“I think I’m working very hard for my constituents,” he said, and expressed confidence that voters will see the same.
Both Vis and Sidhu cited visits by prominent federal leaders – Vis brought Conservative leader to Abbotsford and Mission, while Sidhu pointed to an appearance by Bill Blair, the government’s Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction.
Although the race might look on the surface like a straight-up Vis-Sidhu rematch, other factors will also play a key role, Telford said.
In particular, the strength and weaknesses of the NDP could shift the fortunes of the two candidates.
Sidhu’s win came amid a national trend of voters fleeing the NDP for the Liberals. In 2015, NDP candidate Dennis Adamson earned 20 per cent of the vote.
Polls have shown little improvement in the NDP’s fortunes in the years since.
Meanwhile, Maxime Bernier’s fledgling People’s Party has the potential to siphon off key votes from the Conservatives, Telford said.
“I think in that riding, what might be sort of determinative is how well the NDP does,” Telford said.
“I think for Jati Sidhu to hold it, they’ll have to hope for weak NDP turnout.”
This story originally reported NDP candidate Dennis Adamson had received 11 per cent of the vote in 2015. In fact, he received 20 per cent.