Election years always bring a fair bit of excitement, as everyone starts to ramp up their campaigns, raise funds, nominate candidates and draw up platforms to run on. But in 2019 we have a bit of business to take care of before we get to that point. Earlier in January we saw the government call three by-elections in Outremont, York-Simcoe and Burnaby South, with another one to be called in Nanaimo-Ladysmith in a few weeks.

While each by-election called as importance all its own, it’s the race in Burnaby South that’s topped the list in that regard for one big reason: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is trying to win his way into the House of Commons and as I wrote about last night, there is a lot riding on this race. With the stakes being what they are, you would expect more attention and more energy to be around this race, and we’ve gotten some of that so far.

But on top of the usual, we’ve also seen a series of events that have been quite the thing to watch from a distance. “What’s happened so far?” you might ask. Well here is a short list of what’s happened so far:

  • The NDP Leader spends a few months calling on the government to call the by-elections, accusing the Prime Minister of denying these ridings representation
  • The Prime Minister finally calls the by-elections on January 9th, later than expected, but not before getting his wrists slapped in editorials about his delaying.
  • Maxime Bernier named his first every candidate, who will run in the by-election, but the media soon discovered that she has said many intolerant things before about the LGBT community, gender fluidity and other topics.
  • The Liberal candidate goes after Singh for not being from Burnaby
  • The Conservative candidate, a lawyer, attacks Singh for being the “wrong kind of lawyer”, a defense lawyer. The Conservative candidate tried to back track saying defense lawyers are good people, play an important role, but then tries to still say that there is something insidious about Singh being a defense lawyer. Singh replies by saying he should go back to law school.
  • Jagmeet Singh has a notably bad interview on CTV’s Question Period, which sets out a series of commentary from across the board that ranged from “that was rough” to “Gah!!! What the hell?!?!?!”
  • Mainstreet released their first poll of the by-election campaign period for the riding, showing Singh with a good lead, the Liberals 2nd, and Bernier’s People Party getting to 9% at the expense of the Conservatives

Until yesterday, the only party who seemed to be having a good campaign in Burnaby was the Greens, and that was only because they aren’t running a candidate. No one has gotten off to a clean start, but no one was wounded to the point that they couldn’t hope to catch up, especially with the extra couple of weeks the Prime Minister tagged onto this by-election. But oh, then came yesterday, did it ever. So, what’s happened in the last 36 hours or so? Well….

  • The Star reported that on social media, Liberal candidate Karen Wang suggested that as the only Chinese candidate, she could beat Jagmeet Singh, who she noted is of “Indian descent.”
  • Later in the day, Wang resigned as Liberal candidate, apologizing for her comments
  • After that, news came out that Wang had previous approached the Conservatives about running for them before seeking the Liberal nomination and was actually rejected by the party
  • Then a story came out that members of the local Liberal riding association warned the national party with concerns they had about Wang as a potential candidate
  • Wang goes to the media, saying that she wants to take back her resignation, saying that she still wanted to be the Liberal candidate and that she wasn’t a racist
  • The Liberal Party said “no backsies”, said that she would not be their candidate and informed everyone that Elections Canada had already accepted her resignation
  • According again to the Star, Wang may now seek an independent candidacy
  • Then finally at the end of the day Wang held a press conference, claiming that a campaign volunteer was responsible for the post in question, but ultimately she took ultimate responsibility for it.

Wow…. That’s a lot, isn’t it. Round and round and round we go. What to say about all of this? Well, for starters it really changes the state of play, regardless if Karen Wang decides to try to run as an independent or not. We’ll have to see if the Liberals decide to field another candidate, but they have until February 4th to decide that; given the view of many that the Liberals don’t want to see Mr. Singh lose this race, they might all of a sudden discover the virtue in “Leaders Courtesy”.

For Singh and the New Democrats, this week is ending a lot better than it started; they have some wind in their sails, with either a new main opponent or no Liberal replacement, and the Conservatives getting a decent share of vote eaten up by the People’s Party. If you’re on Team “Love & Courage”, you take this and keep on keeping on, get to those doors and making the best of this chance.

For those who are seeing conspiracies everywhere in all of this or believe that some parties are playing 3D chess while the rest play checkers, I would suggest that they pump their breaks a bit. The events of the past 36 hours are far from being planned or welcomed by the government in my opinion. Yes, it’s pretty clear the Liberals want Mr. Singh to win, but they didn’t concoct all this to try to help him over the finish line. You wouldn’t open yourself up to accusations of using that kind of language or using those kinds of tactics, accusations that are so counter to your brand and the same kind of thing you accuse others of doing, in some Machiavellian plan to try to “own the dippers”. The risks of it backfiring on you are too great, and that risk is nowhere near worth whatever reward would come from it.

If I have learned anything while working in politics and running campaigns, I can point to one very simple rule: Don’t credit to strategic genius something that can most easily be credited to human error, vanity or simply screwing up. And in my view, that’s exactly what we have here, a rather spectacular example of just that; someone doing something that they didn’t think through or thought they could do without getting caught, then getting caught. We’ll see how the next couple of weeks of this by-election go but something tells me that because of this energetic burst of action over the past two days, this race may have come a lot closer to being decided. Jagmeet Singh hasn’t won it yet and still has a lot of work to do, but tonight as I write this, the question of “if” he wins seems to be much closer to be settled in the positive for the NDP than it was when the race was called. Events have intervened this week, as they tend to do during campaigns. Will more of them come before February 25th and voting day in Burnaby? Time will tell but one thing we can say for sure is that this by-election hasn’t been a boring one so far.

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