Political Corner: The People’s Party of Canada’s unexpected success in the Burnaby South by-election is concerning

Image courtesy of the People's Party of Canada

Written by: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor

Three by-elections to fill seats in the House of Commons took place on February 25, the closest of which was in the riding of Burnaby South. It was an incredibly important race for the New Democratic Party (NDP) as Jagmeet Singh was running, aiming to solidify his claim as a capable and legitimate party leader (the fact that only the Green Party respected the tradition of not running candidates against party leaders seeking seats in the House is telling in this regard). Ultimately, Singh won with around 39% of the vote, a comfortable margin given that the Liberals only tailed him with 26% of votes.

Or, at least, it seems that way until you realise the Liberals got that close with a substitute candidate, Richard Lee, following Karen Wang’s removal. And that, as political analysts have pointed out, Burnaby South the NDP’s for the taking given the pipeline debacle.

The real shocker for me was how well the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) did. The PPC was only founded in 2018, after MP Maxime Bernier dramatically left the Conservative party (essentially because it wasn’t conservative enough). Since then, the party has been hailed as a far-right and populist one. Yet somehow they clinched 10.6% (rounded up to 11%) of the vote in Burnaby South — with a politically inexperienced and controversial candidate at that.  

This is a surprisingly strong performance for a new party, especially when compared with the 22.6% of the vote that the much more established Conservatives walked away with. Not only that, but Bernier’s controversial party was definitely staying out of its comfort zone. Bernier’s policies, from his pro-pipeline stance to his anti-immigration platform and concerns over “extreme multiculturalism,” do not fit the profile typically attributed to Burnaby South. After all, Burnaby South is one of the most diverse ridings in Canada, and an urban one too. Though Burnaby South is a new riding created in 2015, Burnaby itself has traditionally been NDP.  

The PPC’s surprising popularity begs some questions about what they may accomplish when running more experienced and savvy candidates, in ridings where their platforms align more readily with voters. What happened, here? Were conservative voters dissatisfied with Scheer and swayed by Bernier? Is this a fluke product of low by-election voter turnout (29.89%)? Did Burnaby South’s political landscape draw a protest vote?

While these questions may not be answerable just now, the Burnaby South by-election results can be paired with larger national signs of popularity, such as the nearly 1 million dollars the PPC has fundraised since its creation. The PPC is now looking less like Maxime Bernier’s personal fantasy, and more like an actual party that needs to be taken seriously and watched in the general October election.