You can “save the NDP” by voting Conservative.
That’s the paradoxical message being delivered to Burnaby South voters ahead of Monday’s byelection.
A flyer distributed to residents in the federal riding assures them marking a ballot for the Tory candidate, Jay Shin, is in the best interest of the New Democrats.
“Save the NDP! Defeat Jagmeet Singh so the NDP can get a new leader,” the orange flyer reads with a picture of Singh, the party’s leader since 2017. “Polling shows the best way to defeat Jagmeet Singh is to lend your vote to the Conservatives. Vote for Jay Shin on Monday.”
The message may seem like a desperate gambit from NDP supporters so concerned about the direction of their party that they're willing to "lend" support to the Conservative.
But a small-print disclosure on the flyer’s reverse shows that’s not the case: “Authorized by the agent for Jay Shin.”
"Save the NDP! Defeat Jagmeet Singh so the NDP can get a new leader."— Kelvin🐶Gawley (@KelvinGawley) February 24, 2019
This last-minute plea for votes from the Conservatives takes concern trolling to a whole new level. #cdnpoli #BurnabySouth pic.twitter.com/ghYAqOI3of
The flyer also quotes six different media sources, including a quote from former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair saying “it would be extremely difficult for Mr. Singh to stick around” should he lose.
Singh’s spokesperson, James Smith, called the flyer “a ridiculous attack from the Conservatives who are trying to stop bleeding votes to Maxime Bernier’s party, I guess by any means necessary.”
“While Liberals and Conservatives say they aren’t worried about what Jagmeet Singh brings to the table, they’re sure spending a lot of time targeting him,” Smith wrote in an email.
Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, said the last-minute campaign tactic is “cheeky, to say the least.”
“It's very much right up in the NDP's face and trying to take advantage of the string of stories we've had about the difficulties Jagmeet Singh has faced in getting his leadership off the ground and fully operational for the election,” he said.
While attack ads and negative politics are nothing new, Prest said he’s never seen something quite like this.
“It's rare for a party to insert itself so directly into the internal affairs of another party,” he said.
The tactic is unlikely to swing a big swathe of the electorate, Prest said, but in a riding where the NDP won by less than 550 votes in 2015, “a small swing in one direction or another can make a big difference.”
“I don't know that it's going to have that much of an effect, but they're clearly pulling out all the stops and being innovative in their messaging as we come to the close of this byelection,” he said.
Shin said the idea for the flyer came after hearing concerns about Singh’s leadership from traditional NDP supporters.
Asked why he would choose to amplify that message, rather than contrast policy positions in a flyer, Shin said “Well I’m here to win this election. The fact is that means beating Jagmeet Singh.”
Shin said his campaign began blanketing Burnaby South with the “Save the NDP” flyers on Saturday, as the campaign entered its final days.
Joining Shin and Singh on the ballot Monday will be Liberal Richard Lee, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson of the People’s Party and independents Valentine Wu and Terry Grimwood.
This is not the first Conservative campaign flyer in the Burnaby South byelection to stir controversy. Thompson's campaign previously complained about a flyer suggesting she supports cannabis legalization and safe injection sites, which she says is not true.