The federal NDP is looking at next month's by-election in South Surrey-White Rock as a learning experience for new supporters, while the Liberals and Conservatives are bracing for an all-out fight.
Former Tory MP Dianne Watts won by a slim margin in 2015, which has the Tories and Liberals both convinced they have a shot at the seat – one of four by-elections across Canada set for Dec. 11. South Surrey-White Rock was created in 2012 and has been Tory ever since. For the Tories, victory would provide momentum for rookie leader Andrew Scheer. For the Liberals, it would suggest their breakthrough in B.C. in the 2015 election continues.
"We tend to look at these [by-elections] as a signal of which way the political winds are blowing," said Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Meanwhile the NDP, which came in a distant third in 2015, is regarding the Dec. 11 vote as a 2019 training opportunity for supporters drawn to the party by new leader Jagmeet Singh.
"We've got a realistic expectation about that seat," said Burnaby South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, the B.C. caucus chair. "We're anticipating there will be a very tough hill for us to climb in that constituency."
He said the party has not yet picked a candidate.
"It's a great opportunity to get folks feet wet and get them ready for 2019, so we'll be bringing folks in from across Surrey into that riding," he said. "They can do their first door knocking. They can do their first phone calls and that kind of thing, so we're ready for the election two years from now. That's what we're excited about."
Ms. Watts vacated the seat to seek the leadership of the BC Liberals, an informal coalition of federal Liberals and Conservatives – the two parties now circling each other for a fight in the riding.
As of Tuesday, the Conservatives had not named a candidate for the riding, which covers southern Surrey and the city of White Rock. The Liberals have acclaimed former BC Liberal cabinet minister Gordon Hogg.
The former probation officer said he is not sure what resources the federal party would provide for his campaign, but members of the Liberal caucus have committed to help with door-knocking. "It's early in the game at this point, so I don't know what type of support I am going to get from Ottawa or the national campaign," he said.
Mr. Hogg, 71, was elected to the B.C. legislature in 1997 and did not seek re-election in 2017.
He served as minister of children and family development for three years under former premier Gordon Campbell.
Prof. Telford said Mr. Hogg is a good catch for the Liberals because he has name recognition in the riding.
"He's local. He was not parachuted into the riding. He has got a track record in public life," he said.
Mr. Hogg said he was not planning to return to politics but saw an opportunity when Ms. Watts stepped down.
He said the Liberals were a natural fit because he ran for the party in the 1993 federal election, but was defeated by a Reform Party candidate.
"I've been a Liberal virtually for all of my life, so for me, I wasn't prepared to consider running as a Conservative, although some people had suggested that," he said.
Mr. Hogg said he is interested in transit, housing, poverty among seniors and the opioid crisis as issues to take on nationally.
However, he said the Liberals will have to campaign hard. "It has never been Liberal, and there are some significant challenges with respect to that," he said.
Scott Lamb, president of the Conservative Party of Canada and a national party councillor for B.C., said the Conservatives will also be challenged.
"The Liberals are pulling out all the stops in this riding, and we expect them to come hard," Mr. Lamb said in an interview.
He acknowledged that Mr. Hogg, a former White Rock city councillor and mayor, is a "popular candidate."
Still, he said the Tories will attempt to connect him to unpopular federal Liberal policies, such as tax measures affecting small business, and even suggestions they are clawing back a disability tax credit for diabetics.
"We're going to try to keep these guys honest in Ottawa, and frankly, sending another Liberal MP to Ottawa doesn't do anything to keep them honest," Mr. Lamb said.
The Tories expect to nominate a candidate on the weekend. Mr. Lamb said he was not sure if Mr. Scheer will come to the riding, but that he expected other prominent Conservatives will.
"We're going to work hard right up until Dec. 11."