Conservatives Can Win Burnaby South

August 10th, 2018 | R. Rados
burnaby south byelection

As Kennedy Stewart leaves his Burnaby South seat behind to run for mayor of Vancouver in October, the radical eco-freak—who was once arrested—hopes his party's leader can recapture the seat in an upcoming by-election. However, Jagmeet Singh's chances of winning are more 50-50 than inevitable.

When we think of Burnaby, we think of a bunch of entitled city councillors and a mayor trying to block pipelines, while hordes of smelly, unkempt environmentalists with nothing better to do set up camps to protest the same pipelines. When we think of Burnaby, we think of a city full of people who hate having heat in the winter and functioning electrical sockets to keep their smartphones charged, but that's not all there is to Burnaby. In previous elections, Conservatives have come close to getting the votes they need to win.

In June, residents of Burnaby called to have the protester camps dismantled and to have the smelly, unkempt environmentalists evicted. This was how it was reported by the Globe & Mail:

In a recent submission to city council, area resident Darlene Johnston tabled a petition with 176 residents’ signatures and expressed concerns about traffic, fire safety, litter and the “negative impact of the protest activities on adjacent property values.”

Ms. Johnston, speaking for residents, called for the camps to be torn down – a view shared by others in the area.

On Sunday, Ms. Johnston, who has lived in Burnaby for 46 years, said she stands by that view.

Burnaby is doing nothing. They say they are monitoring the situation, but that means nothing to us,” she said in an interview.

I don't know about you, but it sounds like some of Burnaby's residents are getting fed up—and we all know what happens when people get angry. Not only are they fed up with protesters protesting Canada's own economic progress, they're probably fed up with the rest of Canada thinking their city is made up of nothing more than entitled, latte-guzzling liberals and smelly, jobless eco-freaks.

It sounds to me like resentment is brewing in Burnaby.

If this isn't the perfect time for the Conservative Party to swoop in, there will never be a perfect time. If Andrew Scheer spends a big percentage of his time between now and the by-election campaigning on economic progress in Burnaby South, his party might get the 3,000 extra votes it needs to take the seat from Jagmeet Singh.

It won't necessarily be about stealing votes from Liberals or trying to appeal to the centre, it will be about increasing voter turnout in Burnaby South. When people are angry and fed up, they vote. Casual voters, flip-floppy voters and first-time voters are what Scheer should be looking for in Burnaby.

The NDP's turnout across Canada in by-elections since 2015 has been embarrassing, to say the least. Jack Layton is probably looking down and shaking his head. Enthusiasm is down, Jagmeet isn't mustering up the energy everyone thought he would and ordinary people in Burnaby are annoyed with their own city. Now is the time for Andrew Scheer to get his hands dirty and to rile up a populist sentiment that could push the Conservative Party over the finish line. It's time to represent the angry and disaffected taxpayers of Burnaby who have been ignored and dismissed by their council, mayor and provincial government.

Burnaby South is the kind of riding that isn't really easy for anyone. Burnaby South is one of those ridings that only a masterful strategist can win. Despite being a left-leaning riding, Burnaby is home to a lot of moderates, if past election statistics are any indication. Conservatives have only ever been a few thousand votes away from winning.

Based on 2015 numbers and redistributed numbers from 2011, Burnaby South has never given the NDP much more than 16,000 votes. In 2015, Conservatives won 12,000 votes, which was down from 14,000 in 2011. The big winners in 2015 were the Liberals, who won more than 15,000 votes but still lost the riding. They were the big winners because they managed to increase their vote share by more than 20% from 2011, when they only won about 4,000 votes.

Prior to 2015, Burnaby South was two ridings: Burnaby-Douglas and Burnaby-New Westminster.

In 2011, Harper's Conservatives only lost to the NDP in Burnaby-Douglas by 2%. In Burnaby-New Westminster, Harper's Conservatives lost by 7%. When numbers are redistributed from these two ridings in 2011 to equal what they would have been if Burnaby South was a riding, we know that there are a minimum of 14,000 potential Conservative Party voters in Burnaby South.

If this is true, Andrew Scheer and Conservatives need to find 2,000 more votes to make it a razor thin margin—if they can convince those same 14,000 Conservatives from 2011 to vote again. It won't be easy, but it isn't impossible.

2011 and 2015 numbers also suggest that Conservatives may have lost votes to Trudeau's Liberals in 2015. If so, there is a good chance many of them will return to the Conservative Party if they care about building pipelines and a strong economy—two things Trudeau promised to do in 2015, but failed to achieve.

The Conservative Party has a huge opportunity to win Burnaby South. If they can pull it off, they'll gain some valuable momentum to carry them into the 2019 federal election. To win, Andrew Scheer needs to spend every waking moment thinking about Burnaby South until the by-election.