With one week until B.C.'s election, Chilliwack-Kent may be B.C.'s most interesting race

Chilliwack-Kent race wide open

Two independents, a New Democrat a Green and a Libertarian walk into a polling place.

While that may sound like the setup for a joke, it’s actually the now-wide open campaign in the Fraser Valley riding of Chilliwack-Kent.

It marks a major shakeup for a riding that was once considered a slam-dunk for the BC Liberals.

That was before incumbent candidate Laurie Throness split with the Liberals this week, following comments he made at an all-candidates debate likening free contraception to eugenics.

Throness, who has faced previous criticism for socially conservative positions on LGBTQ2 issues — including defending conversion therapy — says he’ll now run as an independent.

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Speaking in front of re-branded election signs Saturday, Throness told Global News he hopes to continue to serve the area.

“I care about this community and I want to see it move forward,” Throness said.

“My voters know what they’re getting I’ve been here for seven years. I’m a known quantity here.”

Throness said he feels no bitterness towards the BC Liberals for his exit, and acknowledged that he’d “paid the price” for making a “wrong” and “incorrect statement.”

Throness’ NDP challenger Kelli Paddon thinks her party can take advantage of the twist in the race to recapture the riding for the New Democrats.

While the riding traditionally leans right, it’s not necessarily an impossible task.

The NDP made a brief breakthrough in a 2012 byelection — when riding included Hope — and Gwen O’Mahoney took advantage of a vote split between the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives to claim the seat.

Since then, the community’s demographic has also changed, with many young families moving up the Fraser Valley in search of affordable housing.

“People are excited about real change,” Paddon said Saturday.

“Chilliwack Kent has been speaking for a very, very long time and saying that Throness does not represent the views here. I am so glad that it was finally heard.”

Paddon argued that by marking their ballot for her, voters can ensure they elect someone who will be “at the decision-making table.”

But complicating the race is a challenge from another well-known independent.

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Nine-year Chilliwack city councillor Jason Lum thinks he could become just the second elected independent MLA — after Delta’s Vicki Huntington — in the modern era.

Like Paddon, Lum argues the region is looking for change.

“I think they’re ready to think a little bit outside of their party box and look for somebody who’s got the proven history and experience, the track record of more than 10 years in public service, serving them here in local government and on the Fraser Valley Regional District,” Lum said.

Lum described himself as fiscally responsible, touting his background as a small businessperson, and said he’s prepared to represent the community in a non-partisan way.

“No matter if you have more traditional views or a religious background … your gender, your ethnicity, your sexual orientation, you know, I’m going to bring that representation to you,” he said.

There is also a Green running in the riding, but in a curious twist he has thrown his support behind Lum.

Jeff Hammersmark said he’s staying in the race to offer strong Green supporters who want to back leader Sonia Furstenau’s plan an option.

But he said he entered the race specifically to try and defeat Throness. When Lum stepped forward, he decided not to actively campaign.

“Given the situation in the riding, which I think we can all agree is extremely unique … I am encouraging people to vote for Jason because I think he has the best chance to win,” Hammersmark said.

“Let’s face it, he’s an experienced politician and he can attract support from all sides.”

The Libertarian party is running Eli Gagne in the riding.

Adding more complexity to the race is the fact that more than 7,000 voters had already requested mail-in ballots — though its impossible to know how many were returned — prior to Throness’ resignation from the Liberals.

What’s more, the BC Liberals’ party name will still appear next to his on ballots at polling stations.

With all of that, the only thing certain is that political junkies will be watching the riding closely on Oct. 24 as the results come in.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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