District of North Vancouver Coun. Jim Hanson was expected to do well in the Burnaby North-Seymour race this time. So what went wrong? (NDP)

What went wrong for the NDP in Burnaby North-Seymour?

Speculation ahead of the election suggested the Burnaby North-Seymour race would be tight—some even leaned toward an NDP win. Instead, Liberal Terry Beech solidified his position in the riding.

By Dustin Godfrey | September 24, 2021 |5:00 am

On the final day leading up to this year’s federal election, both NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau paid a visit to Burnaby North-Seymour—the former stopping twice in the riding that day.

Speculation has long suggested that the riding, held by Liberal Terry Beech since it was created in 2015, could flip orange. The speculation was rampant in 2019, and indeed, Svend Robinson came within just 1,600 votes of Beech.

And again, the speculation persisted ahead of this week’s election. Polling aggregator 338Canada projected a strong win for Hanson, with about 35% of the vote (±8%), over Beech, with about 27% ± 7%.

And it wasn’t just the NDP-leaning projection from 338 that fuelled speculation. As mentioned, Singh paid multiple visits to the riding, and Trudeau spent the final night of the campaign there.

And just before the election, then-deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland visited the riding to make a major announcement: funding for a long-sought-after firehall on Burnaby Mountain.

‘The result speaks for itself’

But in the end, Beech improved his lead over the NDP in the riding. He landed with 39.4%, firmly outside of 338’s considerable 7% margin of error, while Hanson grabbed just 29% of the vote.

Speaking to Burnaby Beacon Thursday afternoon, Hanson congratulated Beech and said the “result speaks for itself.”

“We’re proud of our campaign, but in the end, there were more votes for the Liberal candidate,” Hanson said, adding that he felt that voter turnout may have been a factor.

According to Elections Canada, less than 59% of registered voters turned out to the polls in Burnaby North-Seymour.

“I think some of the younger people and newer voters probably were some of the ones that were not participating,” Hanson said.

Newly re-elected Liberal MP Terry Beech delivers a victory speech on election night, Sept 20, 2021, at the Biercraft UniverCity.
Newly re-elected Liberal MP Terry Beech delivers a victory speech on election night, Sept 20, 2021, at the Biercraft UniverCity. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

So where did the speculation come from?

Stewart Prest, a political science lecturer at SFU, said the speculation about the riding’s left-leaning contingent goes back to before the riding was created. In particular, he said it goes back to some of the ridings that were used to create Burnaby North-Seymour.

“My understanding is that they were apparently places with strong NDP presence, particularly in the Burnaby side of things,” Prest said.

Labour has a major presence in Burnaby, with the New Westminster and District Labour Council’s endorsement and that of other labour groups in the area going a long way in municipal elections.

“The fact that they have organizational history and the capacity there gives you reason to think that they can build on the vote. And so they have, I think, been trying to do that for the last couple of elections,” Prest said.

And the weaker position of the Liberals in the last 2 elections, in both instances only taking a plurality of the seats instead of a majority, only further fuels speculation on how any given riding may land.

“The Liberals looked vulnerable. [It] seems like it should be possible to pick up a seat like that, where there is an urban population,” Prest said. “The NDP speaks directly to the concerns of those voters, whether it’s issues like affordability related to healthcare expenses and drug care, or access to childcare spaces, or housing affordability.”

A game of Price is Right

But on those and other issues, Prest said, the NDP may not have done enough to distinguish itself from the Liberals. In the last few elections, as the NDP has taken a turn toward the centre, the Liberals have simultaneously moved to the left.

Add to that a centre-leaning Conservative Party, and you’ve got what Prest called a “Price is Right” election. Like the game show, where you will often see players outbidding their counterparts by just $1 to secure a win, Prest said there was not a lot of disagreement in party platforms.

And that may not do much to entice people away from the party they voted for last time. That could explain why there was so little movement in seat counts between 2019 and this week’s election, Prest said.

“They were all continuing to try to outbid each other by just a little bit. So we did have this strange sort of moderating effect, where we didn’t have much in the way of articulation of dramatically different views for the parties,” he said.

“It was just much more arguing around the edges.”

election results
Peter Julian (NDP), Jagmeet Singh (NDP), and Terry Beech (Liberal) were the winners in this election, making it a night for incumbents. (Burnaby Beacon composite)

Clearer plans on climate change

On climate change, one of the most pressing issues for voters both in Burnaby and throughout Canada, however, the NDP may not have done enough to set itself apart as a leader, Prest said.

“While the NDP and Greens may have loftier targets when it comes to climate action, the Liberals have gone the furthest of any party in articulating concrete plans for how to achieve what they are setting out as their targets,” Prest said.

With that in mind, he said opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion may not necessarily translate into a vote for the NDP.

“There is this larger context,” Prest said.

Asked about how the party differentiated itself from the Liberals, Hanson said that was simply speculation.

“I did sense a lot of support for the NDP and for our candidacy in Burnaby North-Seymour,” he said.

‘We’re an ad campaign’

Campaign spending in the riding may also have played a role, Prest said.

Earlier this week, the NDP’s riding president for York-Simcoe, Jessa McLean, spoke out on Twitter about how the party allocated funding. She said the party took away from local candidates’ abilities to effectively campaign, calling the party not a movement but “an ad campaign.”

The party responded to the issue in April, telling the CBC it was strapped for cash in the 2019 election.

In the final week of the federal election campaign, according to a Burnaby Beacon analysis, a total of around $97,100 was spent on Facebook ads by Burnaby candidates.

But of that figure, the vast majority—$79,288—was spent on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s campaign in Burnaby South. The rest was spread out between 6 of the remaining 15 candidates that ran in Burnaby’s 3 ridings.

The second-highest spender was Beech, having spent $8,597 since Sept 15.

By comparison, Hanson’s page spent exactly $0 on Facebook ads during the entire campaign. Fellow NDPer Peter Julian, in New Westminster-Burnaby, spent just shy of $1,200 since Sept 15, and a total of $4,446 over the last two years.

So could the lack of an advertising presence on Facebook, still the most-used social media platform, have affected Hanson’s prospects?

Hanson himself said while his campaign didn’t pay for any Facebook advertising, the central party would have done advertising on his behalf.

“For my part, I did feel well-supported by the central NDP campaign,” Hanson said.

Stewart said he was unaware of McLean’s online statements, but he said there’s “certainly something there” when it comes to the difference in Facebook advertising.

“If … there are decisions taken at the central office level to direct funding out, that makes it that much harder to generate local momentum,” he said.

A grain of salt

Prest said it’s a reminder to take localized polling and projections with a grain of salt.

“I’m not saying polling is valueless and aggregation is not a useful activity. [But] to try to get to that level of specificity [is challenging], and you see that reflected, to some extent, in the error bars that they’re generating. Plus or minus 8%, that’s a lot,” Prest said.

“So it’s not that they’re even necessarily being academically dishonest about it. It’s just that we have to take it with a very large grain of salt.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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