Liberal candidate Harjit Sajjan needs to retain progressive votes to hold Vancouver South

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      This weekend, B.C. journalist Gurpreet Singh wrote a column urging people of South Asian ancestry to vote strategically in this federal election.

      "Under these circumstances, people need to come out and vote aggressively against divisive forces to keep Canada inclusive," he declared.

      In Singh's mind, the two regressive parties are the Conservatives and the People's Party of Canada, which is headed by former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier.

      Singh didn't mention any ridings in particular, but if he had, he would have certainly mentioned Vancouver South.

      This riding south of 41st Avenue and sandwiched between Cambie Street and Boundary Road has historically switched from Conservative to Liberal.

      It's the most "suburban" of the Vancouver ridings. Most residents live in single-family homes and rely on motor vehicles to get around.

      It's also extremely diverse. According to the 2016 census, 37.9 percent were of Chinese ancestry, 21.8 percent European, and 17.2 percent South Asian. Another 11.3 percent traced their roots back to the Philippines.

      The Ross Street Sikh Temple is in the riding, but some of the South Asian businesses that were near Main Street and East 49th Avenue have moved to Surrey.

      The heart of the riding's business community is now along Fraser Street south of East 41st Avenue.

      Fourteen times, Vancouver South residents have voted Conservative or Progressive Conservative since the riding was created in 1917.

      The first time, it went for a Unionist candidate who supported then Conservative prime minister Robert Borden in 1917.

      In 1940, it supported a National Government candidate, Howard Green, who was a long-time Conservative. Green held the riding from 1935 to 1949 

      So this means that Vancouver South has voted conservative in the majority of elections over the past century, most recently in 2011, when Wai Young defeated Liberal incumbent Ujjal Dosanjh.

      In 1930, Independent Labour candidate and well-known socialist Angus MacInnis narrowly defeated the Conservative incumbent, Leon Johnson Ladner.

      This came right after the stock market crash of 1929, which triggered the Great Depression. It was the only Vancouver South election in which a Liberal never competed.

      The Liberals won the riding for the first time in 1949 when Arthur Laing was elected. But the Conservatives retook the seat in the Diefenbaker era, winning by large margins in the 1957 and 1958 elections.

      But Laing made a comeback, winning three straight elections as a Liberal before before the seat fell to Progressive Conservative John Fraser in 1972. The Pierre Trudeau–led Liberals narrowly won more seats across the country and formed a minority government.

      The seat stayed Conservative throughout the 1970s and 1980s before falling to Liberal Herb Dhaliwal in the Chrétien landslide of 1993.

      In 1997 and 2000, Dhaliwal won again when the riding was called Vancouver South–Burnaby and had different boundaries.

      Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh won the reconstituted Vancouver South in 2004, 2006, and 2008, the latter time by only 20 votes over Conservative Wai Young.

      Harjit Sajjan retook Vancouver South from Young in the 2015 election after the western part became part of the new Vancouver Granville riding.

      Now, Sajjan and Young are in the midst of a rematch.

      Add it up and include Vancouver South–Burnaby elections, and the Conservatives or conservative-minded candidates have won 16 times. The Liberals have won 12 times, including most recently, when some of the richest residents were redistributed to the riding next door.

      Only once was an NDP-like candidate elected—and only then right in the depths of an economic depression.

      Given this history, chances are that Vancouver South will elect either a Conservative or a Liberal this time around, even in the face of rising support for the NDP under Jagmeet Singh.

      The Liberal incumbent, Sajjan, has held the defence portfolio since being elected in 2015. A former Vancouver police officer and former commander of the B.C. Regiment, he's likely as strong a candidate as the Liberals could have found in this election.

      Wai Young assembled an army of volunteers when she ran for mayor of Vancouver in 2018.

      But he faces a crafty opponent in Young. Her campaign has sent out emails alleging that the Liberals are planning to impose a capital gains tax on the sale of people's homes.

      This is not part of the Liberal platform.

      In addition, ads have been placed on a Chinese-language social media site alleging that the Liberals plan to legalize hard drugs. This is also not part of the Liberal platform.

      In 2018 when Young ran for mayor, she cited regional statistics that only two percent of commuters were cyclists to justify eliminating bike lanes; in fact, the City of Vancouver's data showed that 10 percent of commuters rode a bike.

      Young's current campaign is rooted in promoting lower taxes and making life more affordable, which could resonate with residents of this riding. The southeast part of Vancouver has sometimes demonstrated a more conservative bent than other areas of the city.

      When Young ran for mayor of Vancouver in 2018, she was also able to gather information on voter preferences, which could help her this time around. Even though she lost badly, she recruited volunteers, some of whom are no doubt helping her in this campaign.

      Young is hoping not to hemorrhage right-wing votes to the People's Party of Canada's Alain Deng, who was born in China.

      He told the Burnaby Now newspaper that he's an "entrepreneur involved in building materials, manufacturing, warehousing, and creating jobs" and said he has a degree in French language and literature.

      Last year, iPolitics reported that Deng had called Islam a "disgusting religion" on social media. He also called Islam a "savage faith".

      NDP candidate Sean McQuillan is hoping to ride the Singh Upswing into Parliament in Vancouver South.

      The NDP candidate, Sean McQuillan, is an articulate actor and set decorator, as well as a graduate of Langara College's widely respected Studio 58 theatre program. Langara College's main campus is on the northwestern part of the riding.

      The Green candidate, Judy Zaichkowsky, is a former school trustee and long-time professor of marketing at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business.

      On paper, Sajjan should be in a good position to retain the riding. He defeated Young by 6,658 votes in 2015.

      The Liberals have also promised to build hundreds of units of social housing in the River District, which is a rapidly growing residential area near the Fraser River.

      But there are wild cards in this election.

      Some long-time residents of South Asian ancestry were royally ticked when their preferred candidate, Barj Dhahan, was discouraged from seeking a Liberal nomination in 2015. Some of them, who can be counted as among the pro-Indian government faction of the Indian diaspora, backed Young's campaign in 2015.

      In fact, the Hindu-nationalist Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi would probably like nothing better than to see Sajjan defeated in the Canadian election.

      Plus, there's a popular turban-wearing Sikh, Jagmeet Singh, leading the NDP. It remains to be seen what impact he will have in a riding with a substantial population of Sikhs.

      If the NDP's McQuillan were to double the 6,230 votes that went to the NDP candidate in 2015, that could make this riding a tossup between Sajjan and Young.

      Green candidate Judy Zaichkowsky didn't seek reelection to the Vancouver school board in 2018.

      Meanwhile, the Greens could be poised to increase their vote total in Vancouver South, too, because of their higher standing in national polls in this election.

      In 2015, first-time candidate Elain Ng received 1,149 votes, but Zaichkowsky could conceivably do better, given her history as an educator and school trustee.

      Keep in mind that the Conservatives' Young is a wily politician veteran and can be a dynamic campaigner. And her riding association was the only one in Vancouver that supported Scheer's candidacy in the 2017 party leadership race.

      This means there is a fair number of Scheer devotees in the riding.

      Moreover, Scheer flew out to Vancouver to attend this year's Vaisakhi parade in the riding—another sign that he sees this seat as winnable.

      Given the way the national campaign has unfolded, it's still too early to definitively state that this is a safe Liberal seat, notwithstanding Sajjan's high public profile.