A nomination battle of epic proportions will be held Saturday (December 13) to choose a federal Liberal candidate in Surrey-Newton.
With a combined sign-up of about 23,000 members between ex-MP Sukh Dhaliwal and lawyer Randeep Singh Sarai, the contest appears to be one of the biggest—if not the biggest—ever in the country.
“There’s not going to be many ridings in Canada of any party that are going to have that kind of numbers,” Mike Witherly, spokesperson for the Liberal party’s 2015 campaign in B.C., told the Straight in a phone interview.
Neither Dhaliwal nor Sarai responded to requests for an interview. In a Facebook post on December 1, Sarai thanked the “over 11,000 members” who signed up to support his nomination bid.
Witherly noted that the Surrey-Newton phenomenon “speaks to the improved fortunes of the federal Liberal party in British Columbia”. The party has only two MPs in B.C.
Surrey-Newton is a new riding. It has almost the same boundaries as the current Newton–North Delta riding held by NDP MP Jinny Sims.
To put the 23,000 sign-ups—a figure provided by Witherly—in perspective, that number is about half of the more than 46,000 total votes cast in Newton–North Delta during the last election.
Sims, who unseated Dhaliwal in a tightly fought election in 2011, seemed uninterested in what the Liberals are up to. “I don’t know,” Sims told the Straight in a phone interview from Ottawa when asked if she feels intimidated by the Liberal membership drive.
Asked if the announcement of 23,000 sign-ups seems credible, Sims said: “I don’t even want to go there.”
New Democrat organizer Raj Hundal, who has worked in federal and provincial election and leadership campaigns, observed that Newton–North Delta has the highest proportion of South Asian residents in Surrey. Generally, according to Hundal, South Asians are politically active, both in India, the world’s largest democracy, and in Canada.
Hundal also recalled in a phone interview with the Straight that the riding has been held previously by Liberals, New Democrats, and Conservatives and it will be an interesting battleground in next year’s federal election.