Fort-Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman settles into a seat at the Langley Events Centre Arena Bowl for a Times photo shoot.
It was Coleman, the then-forests minister, who brokered a $15 million provincial government grant that led to construction of the 5,500 seat space as the largest part of the biggest sports and recreation project in Langley’s history.
While the project was dogged with cost overruns and controversy, Coleman is firmly convinced it all turned out well.
“I’m really proud of this place, actually,” he says.
“I don’t think there’s a better multipurpose facility anywhere.”
This election will be the fifth campaign for the political veteran who was recently called the “minister of votes” by the Tyee online news site for his habit of winning by large margins.
The last time out, in 2009, Coleman won with 61.09 per cent of the vote, more than double the 30.23 per cent his nearest rival collected.
Other commentators have called the Fort Langley-Aldergrove riding “Coleman country” for the same reason.
Even if the Liberal government goes down to defeat, as most polls suggest, Coleman is considered a good bet to hold his seat.
He sees things differently.
For one thing, he says he doesn’t think a Liberal government defeat is inevitable, pointing to polls that show the gap with the rival NDP has been narrowing.
For another, he doesn’t think his win can be taken for granted.
“I think you should always run like you’re running behind,” he says.
And that means running on local issues.
A conversation with Coleman about his campaign is peppered with references to Langley-area concerns, for instance noting his role in bringing two new schools to his riding.
He says he intends to get “planning money’ as a first step toward expansion of the R.E. Mountain school to help keep pace with rapid population growth.
“They’ll [the schools] be full and they’ll be under pressure.”
He also wants to see some kind of recreation centre built in Aldergrove.
His website lists his many local connections, including past stints as governor of the BC Kinsmen, president of the Aldergrove Chamber of Commerce, Langley’s 1988 Volunteer of the Year, and a director on several volunteer boards.
“As a member of the Aldergrove Kinsmen Club in the 1980s, Rich oversaw the volunteer fundraising and construction efforts that built the Aldergrove Kinsmen Community Centre, a vital community facility which houses a preschool, library, workout area, and meeting space,” the site notes.
Now deputy premier and minister of energy, mines and natural gas and minister responsible for housing, Coleman calls politics his fourth career.
He has worked as an RCMP officer, run his own security company and sold real estate.
Coleman reminds his interviewer that he got started in politics as a “sign guy,” one of the volunteer who plants campaign placards.
Back then, he recalls, the signs were plywood and made with paint stencils.
Now they are lightweight weather-proof plastic, but the art of finding high-visibility locations has not changed.
He still tends to pay particular attention to where his signs go up, and praises a just-retired “sign guy” who had a brilliantly organized system for distribution.
For over 20 years, Coleman has regularly had breakfast at the same local cafe with the same group of friends who like to kid him by reminding him how much more money he would be making in the private sector.
“They keep me real,” Coleman says.
Now a grandfather of three, he says he was thinking about retiring from politics.
But he decided to go one more time because the appeal of the job remains.
It’s a way of making real change, Coleman says, change that can benefit the next generations.