What’s Missing in the Municipality: What does Mike Hurley’s automatic win mean for Burnaby?
On Friday, Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley secured his spot to be the city’s next mayor before the municipal election even happened.
On Friday, Mike Hurley secured his spot as Burnaby’s mayor before the municipal election even happened.
It’s all because no one ran against him.
Hurley is one of 37 mayors in BC, and one of three in Metro Vancouver (joining Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West and Pitt Meadows Mayor Nicole MacDonald), who won by acclamation, according to nomination information released by CivicInfo BC after the nomination period ended on Sept. 9 at 4pm.
Taking a look back at Burnaby’s historical municipal election results over the past 45 years, the incumbent mayor has always faced at least one contender for the seat.
So what does Hurley’s automatic win mean for Burnaby—and what does it say about the city’s political engagement in general?
Ian Bushfield, co-host of local politics podcast the Cambie Report, told Burnaby Beacon that when no one runs against a mayor, it could indicate a “symptom of broader issues” that may hinder people from running against the incumbent in the first place.
“The people who run for office tend to be overwhelmingly white [and] male across the region, and so, where are the women [and] people of colour?” he said.
“What are the barriers to running for office for those people? Maybe it’s personal. But it can be a personal reason for everyone: maybe the commitment is too high, maybe they see their chances as far too low. We know that incumbents win quite readily, most of the time, especially outside of like Vancouver and Surrey. … And so, what are those challenges?”
A negative impact on voter turnout?
With a mayor already decided, there could also be less interest in heading to the polls on Oct. 15.
Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Quest University, said there’s a good chance voters may be paying less attention when it comes to who to vote for council and school board.
“While the mayor is just one vote on council, it’s an important one. It sort of takes away, in some sense, the focal point of the election, so I would not be surprised if it does have a negative impact on turnout,” he said.
In an interview with the Beacon, Hurley said there is a possibility turnout could be lower but that he hopes “people still see the value in that a mayor by themselves can’t do anything.”
“It takes a team, right? It takes a team and a lot of voices all pulling in the same direction,” he said.
When asked about his win by acclamation, Hurley said it “feels a bit odd.”
“Because we were ready to run a campaign, and we had a campaign ready to go. But at the same time, it feels like residents of Burnaby [have been] endorsing what we’ve been trying to do. So hopefully that’s the case, and so we move on and hopefully get a council elected that can carry on the good work that we’ve been doing.”
He said he did expect someone to run against him and was surprised he faced no contenders but is “grateful in the residents of Burnaby putting their faith in [him].”
Polls don’t paint the whole picture, voting paints a better one
The most recent public opinion survey of Hurley’s performance comes from a September poll from Leger, conducted in partnership with the Vancouver Sun, which examined the approval ratings of mayors Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey, and Vancouver.
The survey found 62% of respondents from Burnaby approved of the mayor, while 11% did not. Hurley’s approval rating was second-highest, after Coquitlam’s Richard Stewart.
Still, polls don’t paint a full picture of the entire city’s opinion of the mayor. The only real way to do that, noted Bushfield, is the results of a vote.
“We really only get a good gauge of how popular a mayor and council is through … elections and through that chance to [put] at least two ideas against each other,” he said.
No one stepped up to the plate
There was ample time for at least one candidate to step up to the plate against Hurley, but no one did.
In April, the Burnaby Now reported that the BCA had not decided if it wanted to run a mayoral candidate, but eventually decided not to.
Then, in June, Coun. Mike Hillman, formerly an independent, announced the formation of a new civic party: One Burnaby.
However, Hillman said that he would be endorsing Hurley for mayor, and the intention of One Burnaby was to add different voices to a BCA-dominant council.
Bushfield noted that no one running against Hurley reflects a general sense of satisfaction with the mayor.
“I think … it shows that there’s not a strong discontent with Mayor Hurley; it’s kind of the same in Port Coquitlam, where there’s not a strong and clear discontent with Mayor West,” he said.
“But … these are cities of tens of hundreds of thousands of people, so it’s not likely they would win 100% of the vote if there was a competitor there. So you have to believe that someone disagrees with the direction of the city in some way.”
A collaborative approach
In the case of Hurley, running uncontested and winning by acclamation may have resulted from building a brand as an independent whose political philosophy is about collaboration.
This was the overarching theme of his campaign in 2018 when he defeated Derek Corrigan of the BCA to become mayor. Hurley won 52.55% of the vote, beating Corrigan’s 20,333 votes with a total of 26,260.
Prest noted that it’s when a mayor “finds themselves embroiled in controversy and seems defeatable as a result, it’s more likely they are going to find themselves opposed … then it’s much more likely you’ll see somebody who sees this as a political opportunity and step forward, throw their hat in the ring, and try to give them a try.”
That appeared to be the case in 2018. Corrigan had served as mayor since 2002, and his popularity began to take a downturn as he was facing criticism for his policies around housing and demovictions.
In a 2018 post-election win interview with CBC, Hurley said residents were simply “growing tired of [Corrigan’s] argumentative ways of always seeming to say no about everything.”
“And, you know, when you’ve been around politics too long you make some enemies along the way. And Derek did some great things, in fairness, over the years. But I think there was just a big mood for change,” noted Hurley.
Reflecting on his first year as mayor in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Hurley said his leadership style allowed him to work well with a council where seven BCA members remained councillors at the time.
“I think I’m a collaborator and someone who tries to work with people rather than, you know, taking a different approach of beating people up,” Hurley told the Sun.
Building a political brand based around being a collaborator and an independent is something Bushfield said has faired well for Hurley, overall.
“…It gives him a bit more credibility with people like the One Burnaby slate and the BCA and other independents and Greens that he can be the balance and no one is really worried that he’ll pick a side, because I think maybe that’s what he’s tried to show over his last four years, is that he wants to put partisanship aside. And so that means he hasn’t created the political rivals, as opposed to just the angry people on Twitter.”
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