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ELECTION REFLECTION: Taking a glimpse back into Langley’s political history

In all these years, no Langley MP has ever sat in the federal cabinet

By Frank Bucholtz/Special to the Langley Advance Times

Through the past 148 years, Langley has been represented in the House of Commons by a wide variety of individuals from five distinct political parties.

In all that time, only one woman has ever been elected as an MP representing this community.

The other 21 were men, and in the 20th century and first part of this century, they tended to stay in office for lengthy periods of time.

The first person to represent this area in Ottawa was elected even before Langley existed as a municipality. (The Township of Langley was incorporated in 1873).

Hugh Nelson was a Liberal-Conservative (a predecessor of today’s Conservative Party) and first took office in December 1871 – a few months after B.C. joined Canada.

He was re-elected in the general election that took place the following year – Canada’s second federal election.

Nelson was appointed to the Senate in 1879 and later served as B.C.’s lieutenant-governor. The city of Nelson in the West Kootenay district is named after him.

He represented the vast riding of New Westminster, which included all of the Fraser Valley and much surrounding territory. Langley remained part of the New Westminster riding until 1968.

Nelson was replaced by Liberal MP James Cunningham in 1874.

That election, which followed the Pacific Scandal, was the only election in which Sir John A. Macdonald was defeated.

In 1878, when MacDonald returned to power, New Westminster voters (all men at that time) elected Thomas McInnes, an independent.

In subsequent elections, Liberal-Conservative or Conservative MPs were elected – Joshua Homer in 1882, Donald Chisholm in 1887, Gordon Corbould in an 1890 byelection and again in 1891.

In 1896, when Sir Wilfred Laurier led the Liberal Party to power, New Westminster again went Liberal.

Aulay MacAulay Morrison was elected in 1896 and again in 1900. He was succeeded by another Liberal, James Kennedy, in 1904.

The Liberals under Laurier won their fourth term in office in 1908, but voters in New Westminster did not go along. James D. Taylor, proprietor of the British Columbian newspaper (later The Columbian) was elected as the Conservative MP for the riding. He won again in 1911, when Sir Robert Borden led the Conservatives to power. Borden later appointed him to the Senate.

In the 1917 election, fought during the darkest days of the First World War, incumbent prime minister Borden campaigned as a Unionist, a combination of the Conservatives and many members of the Liberal Party who supported conscription.

In New Westminster, William McQuarrie was elected as a Unionist MP by a huge margin.

He remained MP for the riding until 1930, winning subsequent elections in 1921, 1925. and 1926 as a Conservative.

Women won the right to vote in time to take part in the 1921 election, although some had been able to vote in 1917 under restrictive conditions.

In the 1925 election, the first female candidate for office ran in New Westminster. Rose Mary Henderson was a Labour Party candidate, and won a respectable 3,305 votes, finishing third behind McQuarrie and Arthur Wellesley Gray of the Liberals.

In 1930, the Conservatives took power with party leader R.B. Bennett becoming the prime minister. However, New Westminster bucked the trend – as was the case in many elections to follow. Tom Reid, who had been the reeve (mayor) of Surrey, was elected as a Liberal MP and continued to hold the seat until 1949.

He and two Progressive Conservatives, Bob Wenman and Benno Friesen, were the longest-serving MP in Langley history, each winning five elections.

The closest election for Reid was likely in 1935, when he won over Edwin Baker of the newly-formed CCF (predecessor of the NDP) by 261 votes, at the depth of the Great Depression.

Reid was appointed to the Senate shortly after winning his seat for the fifth time in 1949.

In a byelection four months after the general election, Bill Mott retained the seat for the Liberals. However, he did not win the next election in 1953. The seat was won by the upstart Social Credit party, with George Hahn becoming the new MP.

Social Credit under W.A.C. Bennett had formed the provincial government in 1952 and by 1953 had proven to be very popular among many B.C. voters. Hahn won again in 1957, when the Conservatives (by then renamed Progressive Conservatives) under John Diefenbaker formed a minority government and the Liberals lost power after 22 years.

In 1958, however, he was no match for the Diefenbaker sweep. The PCs won 208 seats, a record number, and Bill McLennan became the PC MP for New Westminster.

He did not win again – in 1962 the seat went to popular newspaper columnist Barry Mather, who won it for the newly-formed NDP. He won again in 1963 and 1965.

In 1966, Langley and Surrey had grown to the point that they were taken out of the New Westminster riding. Two new seats were created for the next election, Surrey-White Rock and Fraser Valley West, which included a small portion of Surrey, Langley, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and much of the Tri-Cities.

In 1968, current prime minister Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre, took part in his first campaign as Liberal Party leader and prime minister.

“Trudeaumania” was the result, and the Liberals picked up 16 seats in B.C., a record until 2015, when Trudeau the Younger led his party to 17 seats in B.C.

Langley voters weren’t impressed in sufficient numbers though.

Mather retained the Surrey-White Rock seat, and Mark Rose, who had been a councillor in Coquitlam, won the Fraser Valley West seat for the NDP as well. Both retained their seats in 1972.

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In 1974, the two seats went PC, ushering in 19-year stints as MPs for Benno Friesen in Surrey-White Rock, which later was redistributed to include part of Langley, and Bob Wenman in Fraser Valley West. The two MPs were re-elected in 1979, 1984 and 1988. The 1984 election saw the PCs return to power under Brian Mulroney with an all-time record of 211 seats.

But by 1993, the Progressive Conservatives were deeply unpopular. The Western-based Reform Party swept out many of the PCs, who only won two seats - one each in Quebec and New Brunswick, and the Liberals took office under Jean Chrétien. The Reform MPs elected in the Langley area were Val Meredith in Surrey-White Rock-South Langley and Randy White in Fraser Valley West. Meredith is, thus far, the only woman ever elected to represent Langley in the House of Commons.

Meredith and White were re-elected in 1997 as Reform MPs. After that election the Reform Party became the Canadian Alliance. The two local MPs were elected in 2000 as Canadian Alliance MPs. Meredith left the party for a short time over concerns about leader Stockwell Day, but returned to the fold as the Canadian Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservatives to form the most recent version of the Conservative Party.

The new riding of Langley was created in time for the 2004 election.

For the first time, all Langley residents had one MP.

Mark Warawa of the Conservatives was elected as the first MP for the new riding, and won again in 2006, 2008, and 2011.

Redistribution due to population growth wiped out the former Langley riding, and once again Langley was split between two ridings.

Warawa won the Langley-Aldergrove riding (which extends into Abbotsford) in 2015 and John Aldag won the new Cloverdale-Langley City riding for the Liberals – the first Liberal to represent Langley since 1953.

None of the MPs who have represented Langley have sat in the federal cabinet, and three later became senators. All have added to the diverse and fascinating political history of this area.

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