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Chilliwack defied predictions - why?

The surprise of election night, Ada Slivinski says her adopted hometown isn’t what many think.
Chilliwack. Who wouldn’t want to live here?

With mail-in-ballots still to be counted, for now Chilliwack has elected its first NDP MLA in Dan Coulter. Chilliwack-Kent is still too close to call, but however the chips fall, the fact that this race is even tight is a story in its own right.

The riding has been a BC Liberal stronghold for all but one small NDP byelection blip in its history. But now, NDP candidate Kelli Paddon leads former BC Liberal-now independent Laurie Throness with Independent Jason Lum holding a close third.

Four years ago, my family bought a four-bedroom home on a large double lot in the mid $400,000s in downtown Chilliwack, and moved out from the city.

My editor at the time joked it was “third notch on the Bible belt.” I expected to feel a world away, but was surprised how easily we fit in. Young families just like ours had also migrated out, chasing the dream of owning an affordable home; those who had grown up in the area were working in cool jobs and travelling the world. They care about education and childcare, healthcare and transportation.

The rural-urban divide has historically been a massive factor in all political races; the BC Liberals courted the rural vote for years. Those demographics are now rapidly changing as remote work has allowed people to plug in to the office from wherever – now of course exaggerated by COVID-19. What were traditionally “big city values” have found a home in smaller centres.

That said, Chilliwack had its first Pride event only last year. A rainbow crosswalk in downtown has yet to be approved, but in the meantime 11 others have popped up around the city. As communities become more diverse, negative fear-based campaigns aren’t as successful. It becomes a lot tougher to vote for a candidate criticized for anti-LGBTQ views when your grandkid or neighbour has come out as gay.

Much of the media commentary on election night voiced surprise at how the district swung, but having spent much of the last four years there, I’m surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.

It’s impossible to predict if this trend will be here to stay, but one thing is certain: no party can take rural seats for granted anymore. That hopefully means stronger candidates and more thoughtful platforms in the years and elections to come.

No matter how you vote, that’s a huge win for democracy.