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This is how Derek Corrigan managed to lose the election

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Because it rarely does. Sitting mayors who have served for multiple terms rarely lose elections. It’s even rarer for a sitting mayor to lose to someone who has never served on city council before.
Derek Corrigan
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Because it rarely does.

Sitting mayors who have served for multiple terms rarely lose elections. It’s even rarer for a sitting mayor to lose to someone who has never served on city council before.

New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote managed to outwork Wayne Wright four years ago, but he was a known entity after having served as a city councillor.

Mike Hurley was a virtual unknown to most Burnaby voters. Sure, he was known with local firefighters and a few others, but that’s about it.

Which makes what happened tonight so shocking. Shocking doesn’t even seem worthy of what happened as Hurley beat Corrigan – a man who has served on council longer than the NOW reporter covering him, Kelvin Gawley, has been alive. This was Corrigan’s fifth term.

How about Earth shattering?

Yeah, that works.

Hurley won going away. Six-thousand votes is a big number against a five-term mayor.

As I sit here typing out these words, I still can’t believe it. Even when the Justason Marketing Intelligence poll came out on Wednesday showing Hurley with an eight-point lead, I didn’t believe it. I don’t trust polls and figured the Burnaby Citizens Association machine would get their people out to vote.

After all, the BCA had a mountain of money to spend on the campaign. In 2014, the party that has ruled Burnaby politics with ruthless efficiency for decades spent more than $500,000 on its campaign.

Derek Corrigan
Derek Corrigan

Hurley definitely had some bucks behind him to afford polling and media ads, but I seriously doubt he had the kind of deep pockets behind him that the BCA had. (What they did have was an army of volunteers who canvassed and door knocked like crazy.)

So, how did Hurley do it? He’s not exactly a charismatic person. He’s mildly affable and didn’t exactly light it up when it came to bold policy ideas.

There must’ve been some secret. Or was it not really what Hurley did, but what Corrigan has done in his years in office that finally burned out his popularity?

Here are my theories on how Corrigan blew what should have been a slam dunk.

  1. The Housing Issue: This was the key mark against Corrigan when it came to policies. Fair or not, Corrigan was seen as not giving two hoots about the fact that renters were being demovicted from their homes – especially in Metrotown – at a rapid rate. One by one, the buildings fell, people were dumped out into the streets and Corrigan seemed unconcerned. Even worse, he whined about how his hands were tied. There’s nothing people hate more from a politician than them shrugging their shoulders and saying “what can I do?” when there is a crisis taking place. Corrigan was often compared to Cote, who worked hard to try and address the housing issue. Fair or not, Cote appeared to care and take significant action, while Corrigan just blamed other people like the provincial government. That’s some weak sauce and voters obviously agreed. I think at the last minute, the BCA finally saw the writing on the wall with internal polling because a few months ago city council finally announced a housing plan based on new tools from the provincial government. The BCA also halted some projects and vowed to demand more non-market housing from developers. It came across as pure desperation and they pretty much indicted themselves by reversing course. The BCA tried to put it all on the new provincial tools as finally freeing them, but people weren’t buying it.
  2. The Vaunted Burnaby Reserves: The BCA likes to brag about how much money the city has in reserves due to the all the cash the city has raked in from developers building all those condo towers. They even said it was the big reason why they could afford a bunch of new recreation centres and two ice sheets that they announced during the last week of the campaign. And yet, that seemed to backfire with voters who felt the city hoarded all those reserves year after year while allowing things like sidewalks and housing for the homeless to languish. I can’t tell you how many letters to the editor were written by people who felt the city was missing so many things despite having such rich reserves. People would always angrily point to that mountain of cash and wonder why it wasn’t being spent on them. Sorry, but the Willingdon Linear Park and some possibly future rec centres aren’t enough for people.
  3. The Homeless Issue: Basically, people saw Corrigan as somebody who did not like homeless people and did very little for them – like building a shelter for them. People often refer to Corrigan’s infamous comment about homeless people stealing the gold from people’s teeth during an interview with journalist Chris Bryan – and for good reason. Again, the BCA at the last minute finally allowed a supportive housing project in their city, but years of deflecting calls for homeless shelters made Corrigan look utterly heartless. I believe this is a reason why so many left-wing labour groups abandoned Corrigan.  
  4. The Pipeline: This was one issue that gained him support from environmentalists, but who knows how many actually live in Burnaby. In a way, Corrigan’s fierce rhetoric over the pipeline came across as insincere. It looked like an attempt to maintain his shaky lefty rep while he cozied up to developers and ignored renters and the homeless. And it didn’t really cost him. He just told staff and lawyers to throw everything at the pipeline fight, and do some media interviews. I think people on the left felt that his pipeline fight wasn’t enough to outweigh the way he dealt with other social issues.
  5. His Personality: Corrigan always comes across as cranky and dismissive. I took over this job in May and received so many emailed missives from voters who didn’t just not like him – they loathed him. I’ve never seen that much animosity over a mayor before. The animosity people expressed was intense.
  6. The Campaign: It was pretty obvious from the start of the campaign that the BCA was terrified of Hurley. Pretty much every ad, from print to social media, was solely focused on Corrigan and attempted to soften his image with cuddly videos of him talking about his life and commitment to Burnaby. I get trying to soften the image of such a crusty politician, but what the campaign lacked was any semblance of fresh ideas, especially about the housing crisis. The big BCA announcements were cameras in Central Park after somebody was charged with Marissa Shen’s murder and a few rec centres. But spending money is a lot different than showing voters that you are adjusting to the times with bold ideas to fix what people perceive are the city’s problems. Also, big spending announcements come across as crass attempts to buy support.

In the end, a lot of voters decided they were fed up with Corrigan and what many viewed as intense arrogance. It all added up to enough voters looking for and finding a viable alternative in Hurley to feel comfortable enough with turfing him out of office.