The newly formed federal riding of Burnaby North-Seymour will be the one to watch in the next election, as things are shaping up to be a tight race in the riding that combines half of an NDP stronghold with a traditionally right-leaning piece of the North Shore. The writ may be dropped as early as this weekend, but these candidates are already in campaign mode. Conflicting polls show the Liberals, Conservatives, Greens and NDP all have a decent shot at winning.
According to the Liberals’ internal polling for the riding, conducted roughly seven months ago, the Grits were in the lead with 33 per cent, trailed by the Conservatives with 31 per cent, the NDP with 26 per cent, while the Greens, who did not have a candidate at the time, had 11 per cent. (The poll's margin of error is 4.3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.)
Liberal candidate Terry Beech said his campaign has looked at the voting history in the new riding (from superimposing the new boundaries over past election results), and never in the history of that riding would the area have gone to the NDP.
“When you look at the numbers, they can’t take any more votes from the Liberals than they already did in the last election,” Beech said. “In 2004 and 2006, this riding – with the votes counted as they have been – would have been Liberal, and in 2008 and 2011, it would have been Conservative. Although the NDP does consistently well in the riding, it seems to be there’s 4,000 or 5,000 votes that switch between the Liberals and the Conservatives that the NDP would have to go after in order to have a chance at winning. As of the last election, the only points those could come from is the Conservative base.”
The Grits are already zeroing in on Burnaby North-Seymour, and leader Justin Trudeau has made two Burnaby visits recently – the last on July 23 to thank volunteers.
Beech also pointed out that the riding’s candidates are all newcomers and the Tory and NDP incumbents have decided to run elsewhere.
Conservative candidate Mike Little has been door-knocking since January, but he has not done any riding-specific polling.
“What we’ve mostly been focusing on is re-identifying the vote that we identified in 2011,” Little said. “In 2011, obviously there was a campaign with Ronald Leung, and they identified quite a few Conservative supporters, so our focus is to re-identify support.”
Little also noted Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to the riding. (Harper went to a North Shore secondary school in April.)
“Hopefully, we’ll have him back before the election, but it’s obviously going to be a focus riding for us,” he said.
New Democrat Carol Baird Ellan, a retired judge, started door-knocking “in earnest” two months ago. She said her party has not done any internal polling, but she pointed to an Insights West poll in May, commissioned by the Dogwood Initiative. The results put the NDP in the lead with 35 per cent, the Greens second with 19 per cent, and the Tories third at 15 per cent. (The Liberals barely registered with just six per cent.)
“We see polls from time to time. It’s interesting to see how they vary almost based on who’s conducting them sometimes. Certainly, what we’re hearing at the door is a groundswell of support behind the NDP and Tom Mulcair,” she said.
Baird Ellan said she wasn’t nervous the new riding would tip to the right.
“We’re not concerned about that, particularly given what we’re hearing on the doorstep in North Vancouver,” she said. “We hear people saying all the time, ‘I’ve always voted Conservative, and I’m voting for you this time.’”
SFU professor Lynne Quarmby said the Greens have done some internal polling. She declined to discuss specifics but said the results were close to the Insights West poll, which put the Greens in second with 19 per cent of the vote, much higher than their typical four per cent.
“If you look at my trend line, I’m going up,” Quarmby said. “This is going to be a tight race. I think it’s going to be really hard to call.”
Quarmby, who’s been door-knocking since spring, is up against voters who don’t want to split the left and let Harper back in.
“The strongest message I’m getting on the doorstep is: ‘I think you’re great. I think you’re the strongest candidate. I love what you stand for, but I’m not sure I can vote for you, because I’m worried about Harper getting re-elected,’” she said. “I think I’m strong enough that it’s not about splitting. I’m a serious contender.”
Quarmby said the riding would be interesting and difficult to call, even in the eleventh hour.
One Expert’s Opinion
But who believes polls anymore?
Doug McArthur, head of SFU’s school of public policy, noted Burnaby North-Seymour is a swing riding, but he takes all polls with a grain of salt.
The Liberals’ internal poll used interactive voice response technology, meaning respondents never spoke to an actual human. McArthur said that’s the “least reliable” method because it’s hard to know how representative the sample size is. The smaller the sample size, the less reliable the results are, he noted. (The Insight West poll only had 301 participants in the riding.)
“I think what you can say is we know the Liberals are claiming they’re doing quite well, the NDP claims they’re doing quite well. I would guess that fits the notion of this as a competitive constituency,” he said.
Nationally, the Liberals and the Conservatives have been on the decline since January, while the NDP has picked up considerably, according to CBC’s poll tracker, which combines all major public opinion polls.
The Tories made gains in July, but they were tied with the NDP at press time; both had 31.6 per cent and neither with enough seats to form a majority government.
Clarification: We added "Green" to the list of contenders in the intro at the top of this article, because Quarmby was ranked second in the Insights West poll. Apologies for the ommission.