Back in early August, new NDP leader Jagmeet Singh declared his plan to seek the seat of Burnaby South, which officially came open on September 14.
Since then there’s been months of discourteous delay and games from the Trudeau Liberals. Even when a byelection for Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau was called on October 28, Burnaby South was passed by.
Then, amid the Grewal affair in November, Liberal operatives attempted to nudge Singh into switching his byelection run to Brampton East when they knew no vacancy existed. Had Singh taken that bait he would have been left twisting when Liberal MP Raj Grewal rescinded his resignation pledge — no doubt good for some quality PMO snickering.
On December 29 the Liberals nominated a Burnaby South candidate, suggesting an imminent byelection call. But nope. Maybe next Sunday. Or the next.
Burnaby South is a relatively new riding, first appearing for the 2015 general election when NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart narrowly took the seat with 35 per cent support. The Liberal candidate took 34 per cent and the Conservative candidate earned 27 per cent support. Stewart was elected Mayor of Vancouver, creating the vacancy.
Mainstreet poll provides no real guide
The only public poll of the Burnaby South was released on November 19 from Mainstreet. But Mainstreet is a company that has had difficulties getting it right in the past. It’s most public disaster was wildly missing the mark in the Calgary municipal elections. And this poll also has its problems.
Mainstreet’s Burnaby South poll was published along side snap-shots of Beauce, the seat of MP Maxime Bernier, and the BC provincial seat of Nanimo, where the local MLA resigned on November 30 and a provincial by-election is now underway.
Mainstreet’s poll of Burnaby South had certain — oddities.
In the Beauce and Nanimo surveys Mainstreet presented results of both a candidate poll and a leadership poll. That is, respondents were both asked their preference between the party candidates (“Would you vote for Jill Smith, candidate of the NDP,” for example), and their preference between party leaders (“Would you vote for the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau”).
Those two questions will yield different results. In Nanimo, when NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson was compared against other candidates, her result was five points higher that the NDP’s result in a leadership poll. In Beauce, the candidate poll boosted Maxime Bernier by seven points from the leadership poll. Candidates matter — especially in byelections.
But in Burnaby South, only a leadership poll was presented, not a poll of candidates. Of course only Singh will be on the ballot, alongside the names of the other local candidates — not alongside Trudeau, Scheer and May.
The other curiosity was that Mainstreet included May’s Greens at all. The Green Party leader has repeatedly declared her party will not be fielding a candidate in Burnaby South.
Both those oddities mean the one public poll is not a worthwhile guide to actual support levels in Burnaby South.
Via Twitter, I asked the president of Mainstreet why he didn’t report a candidate poll and included the Green Party.
The reason given for excluding candidate names was that candidates are not officially nominated with Elections Canada yet. But, that response doesn’t square with Mainstreet’s surveys of Beauce and Nanimo, in both of which candidates were named though they are not officially nominated with their electoral commissions.
And the reason given for including the Green Party is that May might yet change her mind. Well, okay.
The result is that the November Mainstreet poll of Burnaby South does not reveal or clarify, it just raises more questions.
Liberals will come hard at Singh to try to avoid affordability issues
But there’s no question the Liberals will be coming hard at Singh in Burnaby South. The machinations and manipulations leading up to the byelection prove that. And surely Liberals know that, though clearly it isn’t showing up in polls on political preference, the NDP is aiming at the right target with their focus on Liberal inaction on the affordability everyday life.
As shown in a recent survey, the cost of everyday life and personal health concerns are what keep Canadians up at night. And Singh keeps pounding away at Liberals’ failure to fix the cost of prescription drugs and housing affordability. It’s a vulnerability the Liberals would prefer to address by attacking the messenger — delaying him and even defeating him, if possible.
Strategically, the Liberals would prefer to keep the media narrative focused on Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Liberals may be do-nothings, but — they will argue — that is better than rule by the unpalatable Conservatives.
In Burnaby South there’s also a lot at stake for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Despite disappointment with the Trudeau Liberals, there has not be a single poll during Scheer’s leadership showing his Conservatives in majority territory. Now Burnaby South presents two strategic problems. First, whether to primarily campaign against the Liberals candidate or the NDP’s Singh. And second, whether to continue their anti-immigrant rhetoric in a working class suburban riding home to many immigrants. Those decisions will be instructive and perhaps significant to the outcome.
But of course the stakes are highest for Singh and the NDP. A win by Singh puts him in the Commons in February, asking Trudeau why he pays so little attention to working class Canadians struggling with the affordability of everyday life — even while paying out billions in new subsidies and tax reductions to corporations.
A Singh loss would likely result in a 2019 election almost exclusively fought over whether it will be Liberals or Conservatives who hand out billions more in corporate subsidies and tax cuts. A Singh win opens the door to turning Liberal vulnerability on affordability into a surprise NDP’s opportunity.
However Burnaby South turns out, it’s a significant milestone toward the general election scheduled for October 21, 2019.