CHILLIWACK/LANGLEY (NEWS 1130) — Three ridings in Langley and Chilliwack elected their first-ever NDP MLAs Saturday.
In all, four socially conservative candidates in long-time BC Liberal strongholds in the Fraser Valley faced serious challenges from progressives.
In Chilliwack -Kent, incumbent Laurie Throness could fall to Kelli Paddon, a rookie candidate with a background as an advocate for people with developmental disabilities.
Throness has been dogged by controversy throughout the campaign. Pride groups called for Throness to be removed as a Liberal candidate earlier this month. He was at the centre of a controversy in June when he bought advertising in a conservative Christian magazine that defended conversion therapy. Throness defended this decision, refusing to pull his ads. Despite calls from advocacy organizations, and condemnation from the NDP, Leader Andrew Wilkinson didn’t drop Throness from the party.
However, his comments comparing an NDP plan to provide free contraception to eugenics resulted in his resignation from the party. Still listed as a BC Liberal on the ballot, Throness’ seat is facing a serious challenge. The lead in Chilliwack-Kent alternating between him and Paddon on election night.
In 2017, Throness won handily securing 49 per cent of the vote where the NDP won 36 per cent. The closeness of 2020’s race means a winner will likely not be declared in Chilliwack-Kent until mail-in ballots are counted.
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In Chilliwack, BC Liberal candidate John Martin had been MLA since 2013. He advertised in the same publication as Throness, but has never commented on the controversy even as other members of his party issued public apologies.
Martin has been defeated by school board chair Dan Coulter. During his tenure on the board, Coulter has championed a rainbow crosswalk and condemned fellow board member Barry Neufeld for opposing SOGI-123 — a resource meant to support LGBTQ students and their families. Neufeld was officially censured by the board in May for a post about Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam that was widely condemned as transphobic, and for propagating COVID-19 misinformation.
In Langley East, two civic politicians went head-to-head to replace BC Liberal Rich Coleman, who represented the riding since 1996.
Margaret Kunst, a councillor for Langley Township, came under fire early in the campaign for voting against a rainbow crosswalk. The BC NDP and Langley Pride called for the Liberals to drop Kunst, but she remained the party’s candidate.
Kunst was defeated by New Democrat Megan Dykeman, currently the chair of the Langley School Board. She has been a vocal supporter of SOGI-123.
In Langley, Mary Polak has held the riding for the BC Liberals since 2005. She lost her seat to Andrew Mercier who will became the first NDP MLA there since 1960. Polak was the chair of the Surrey School Board during most of the six-year fight to ban books featuring same-sex parents from district classrooms and libraries in the late 90s. That battle went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The shift to the left is noteworthy in a region with changing demographics, and during a campaign where the BC Liberal Party has been accused of failing to repudiate candidates with sharply socially conservative views.