The city of Surrey flipped from the Liberals to the NDP in the B.C. election, serving as a microcosm of the NDP's rise and of the increasing divide between the province's urban and rural voters.
And while the issue of housing drew considerable attention throughout the Lower Mainland, observers and people involved in the Surrey campaigns said other factors were at play, including portable classrooms, bridge tolls and the lack of a second local hospital.
Peter Fassbender, one of two Liberal cabinet ministers to lose in a Surrey riding, said after the vote that education and tolls were decisive issues. "We need to build more schools and that has to be our focus as we continue to grow," he said. "I think the tolls really polarized people. The unfortunate thing is that to remove all the tolls is a huge step and the implication to our credit rating and everything is significant."
Mr. Fassbender was education minister during the 2014 teachers' strike. Surrey, which is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, at a rate of 800 new residents a month, has been a hot spot for discontent when it comes to schools because thousands of students are in portable classrooms.
Mr. Fassbender most recently served as the minister of community, sport and cultural development and was also responsible for TransLink.
Amrik Virk, who oversaw technology, innovation and citizens' services, was the other Liberal cabinet minister to lose his Surrey re-election bid. The Liberals won five of eight Surrey ridings in 2013, but the NDP claimed six of nine this time. Jagrup Brar, who lost to Mr. Fassbender by 200 votes four years ago but defeated him by nearly 3,300 votes on Tuesday, also pointed to education and tolls, as well as the NDP's promise to build a second Surrey hospital.
"The people of Surrey have very clearly spoken for that change [after] the neglect which they received from the Liberals for the last 16 years," he said.
Mr. Brar may have benefited from the redrawing of boundaries for the Surrey-Fleetwood riding. Had the new boundaries been in place in 2013, he would have defeated Mr. Fassbender then.
Shinder Purewal, a political science professor at Surrey's Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in an interview Wednesday pointed to the same three campaign issues as Mr. Brar.
He described the Surrey result as a "regional rebellion."
"…We expected people like Fassbender, Amrik Virk – these are two full cabinet ministers – that they could have delivered something on those fronts," he said.
"But they didn't."
Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said in an interview there were a number of explanations for the NDP's success in Surrey. He said Mr. Fassbender had become a lightning rod and was harmed by redistribution, while Mr. Virk was a "relatively weak minister" who was shuffled out of his earlier portfolio, advanced education.
Prof. Telford said the NDP also ran some strong candidates, including Jinny Sims, who won Surrey-Panorama and previously served for the federal NDP.
He said the Liberal approach to Surrey and the surrounding region did the party no favours.
"After the last election, when it was very clear that the Liberals had their base of support in the interior and in the north … the Liberals were, if not overtly hostile to the urban agenda, weren't very friendly to it," he said.
Prof. Telford pointed to the use of portable classrooms in Surrey, the province's continuing dispute with the Vancouver School Board and its inaction on transit as issues that were "not sensitive to the urban agenda, urban voters."
He said the NDP's gains in Surrey do not mean the city has become a party stronghold, although that may increasingly be the case for the broader region.
"I think we can look at Vancouver and urban Vancouver, the greater Vancouver area, as becoming more of an NDP stronghold. That's a change," he said.
Mario Canseco, vice-president of public affairs at the polling firm Insights West, said in an interview that while people in Surrey were concerned about crime and public safety, he believed housing was the dominant factor.
"If you're somebody who's young and is struggling to get by and is trying to figure out whether you can stay in the community where you are right now, then you're definitely going to be voting for whoever has the best ideas on housing," he said.
The NDP had pledged to build 114,000 new units of housing over the next decade, although it was not specific about how it would finance them.