COLUMN: Right or wrong, it’s about amassing numbers

My introduction to federal politics in the Fraser Valley came in the spring of 1968...

My introduction to federal politics in the Fraser Valley came in the spring of 1968 when, in the parking lot adjacent to the Chilliwack Progress, I watched Liberal candidate Jerry Pringle suddenly flip over and walk on his hands!

I had just finished interviewing him and incumbent candidate Rev. Alex B. Patterson in the office and continued outside with them to chat when Pringle surprised us. His antics brought a smile to my face (and my only non-Conservative federal vote), and a dour look from the staid Alex B., at that time the last sitting member of the federal Social Credit Party of Canada.

Not only was Pringle bringing vitality and excitement to Valley politics, he was riding on the wave of Trudeau-mania that on June 25, 1968 swept him and Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals to power. It also put the final nail in the coffin of the federal Socreds.

For the 1972 federal election, Patterson re-invented himself as a Progressive Conservative, and once again found himself back in Ottawa.

His retirement 12 years later was cause for an exciting and, I’m certain, most lengthy candidate nomination “convention” in the Valley’s history. Among the half-dozen or so mostly well-known long-term residents contending to be the candidate were Abbotsford Mayor George Ferguson and Eaton’s store manager Ross Belsher. It was a spirited event with relatively large contingents supporting each contender amassed in Chilliwack’s Evergreen Hall (our riding then was known as Fraser Valley East).

What made that convention exciting was that voters cast their ballot for one candidate, and following the count, the low man on the ticket was dropped and subsequent votes were held, knocking off candidates until the last ballot.

The voting took all day – the number of voters declining each time their favourite was dropped. The final late-evening battle for votes was between Ferguson and Belsher, the latter’s solid support from members of the Sevenoaks Alliance Church, many having been bused to the venue with no ability of returning to Abbotsford until the last ballot was counted, carrying the day.

While Blesher’s bloc support was, in the day, a bit controversial for Valley politics, its legitimacy was not contested.

Thus I come to this Saturday when casting a ballot for the Conservative candidate for the new riding of Mission-Matsqui-North to Alaska (well, at least to Ashcroft and beyond).

The Best Western in Mission where the balloting occurred was packed and it was clear in my mind, even before I voted, who the winner would be.

When I first learned that Gurmant Grewal, denied candidacy by the Conservatives in Cloverdale-Langley City this past November, was promoting his son in this riding, I knew his tactics of gathering together huge membership numbers would occur here, too.

And the numbers don’t deny it: 3,841 total memberships, 1,864 eventual voters on Saturday, close to 1,000 votes putting his son over the top on first count.

I’ve received many emails and calls over the past couple of days alleging all sorts of things: interloper-candidate, mass membership purchases, voting by non-residents – none substantiated.

What can be confirmed is that unless you are pushed by highly motivated people, most don’t join political parties nor are willing to spend the time participating in candidate selection.

Gurmant understands that. He first got himself elected, then his wife – for a time, until allegations of scandal caused him to step aside – the only husband-wife team to ever sit in the House of Commons. Now he has helped his son attempt to be the first mother-son team of MPs in Ottawa.

I’ll be interested to see if Gurmant can convert this win into electoral success this October.

All I can say is that he won’t be doing it with my help.

markrushton@abbynews.com

Abbotsford News

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