COLUMN: South of the Fraser rises again and again

For years, Richmond, Delta, Surrey, White Rock and Langley had one MLA. After May 9, there’ll be 17.

Much has been said in recent weeks about the strategic importance of Surrey and the South Fraser region in this year’s provincial election.

It is safe to say that the suburban areas of the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley are key battleground ridings. If they mostly remain in BC Liberal hands, the party led by Christy Clark will form the next government. If a good number switch from BC Liberal to NDP, John Horgan will form the next government. The Green Party will get votes, but isn’t likely to win any seats in this area.

Both parties have promised to reduce or eliminate toll bridges, aiming their message at swing voters in these ridings. They know that many potential voters are upset about how much money those tolls take out of their pockets. Both leaders have made many appearances in Surrey, where at least three of the nine ridings are genuine toss-ups. Delta North will also be a close race.

The dramatic growth in population led the most recent Electoral Boundaries Commission to recommend in 2015 that two new seats be added to the provincial legislature – one in Richmond and one in Surrey – to take the total number of MLAs up to 87. The South Fraser region is among the fastest-growing parts of the province.

Richmond, Delta, Surrey, White Rock and Langley were, for many years, in one riding called Delta. For many years, they were represented by one MLA. When this election is over, there will be 17 MLAs in Victoria representing those communities – almost 20 per cent of the total.

Voters’ list numbers over the years shows the astonishing growth of the area, and how important it has become on the provincial scene.

In the provincial election of 1920, 97 years ago, the Delta riding had 4,305 registered voters. That included men and women. Women were first given the right to vote in B.C. elections in April, 1917 – almost exactly 100 years ago. Mary Ellen Smith was the first woman elected to the B.C. legislature in a 1918 byelection.

The South Fraser area really began to grow in the 1930s as many people came to B.C. from the drought-ravaged Prairies. By the time of the 1937 provincial election, there were 13,584 registered voters in Delta – more than three times as many as in 1920.

The population continued to grow during the Second World War and really exploded after the war. By the time of the 1952 election, when W.A.C. Bennett first led Social Credit to power, there were 45,805 registered voters – more than 10 times the number from 32 years earlier. Incredibly, there was still just one MLA to representing all those people.

In 1956, the riding got a second MLA, but stayed the same size. By that time, there were 48,884 registered voters. There continued to be two Delta MLAs until 1966, when the huge Delta riding was broken up into four seats – Richmond, Delta, Surrey and Langley. In 1972, when the first NDP government under Dave Barrett was elected, the four seats combined had 158,543 registered voters.

In the 1986 election, the representation in Victoria had more than doubled. The Richmond, Delta and Langley ridings had all become two-member ridings in that election, and Surrey was now represented by three single-member ridings – Surrey-Guildford-Whalley, Surrey-Newton and Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale. Thus there were now nine MLAs in the former Delta riding, when just 30 years earlier, there was one.

Representation has continued to increase since then, particularly in Surrey, which went from three to five to seven, then eight and now nine MLAs. Richmond will have four MLAs after this election, while Delta and Langley continue to have two each.

How many people (including children and non-Canadians, who are not eligible to vote) now live in what was once the Delta riding? According to the Electoral Boundaries Commission report, the estimated population of the 17 ridings in 2015 was 964,849. Of those, 530,449 were in Surrey. And the population continues to grow.


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