With voting day in the School District 40 by-election just 9 days away, the usual arguments in New Westminster politics have started coming out. One of the candidates, Dee Beattie, received the endorsement of the New Westminster & District Labour Council while the other, Mary Lalji, did not. This has lead to the usual spilling of ink about how The Machine will lead Beattie to victory, as if assuming that she has no other qualifications that people may want to vote for beyond the endorsement.
And, frankly, that’s kind of the case. Both candidates offer pretty much the same things. They would both be capable school board trustees. They both want the best for the children of New Westminster. While I have issues with some of their issues (in Beattie’s case I find her previous lack of engagement with the community to be a weakness and there’s no way Richard McBride Elementary should remain standing, and in Lalji’s case I find her endorsement of school buses for Queensborough children lacking a grounding in understanding the school district’s budgetary constraints) I would be perfectly happy with either candidate becoming a school board trustee.
So in this election, I believe that the differentiation between the two candidates comes from the community of people who backs them.
In Beattie’s case, it’s labour. As she says, she’s a CUPE person. She has the backing of nearly every other person elected to public office in New Westminster, all of whom were endorsed by the NWDLC, coincidentally enough. Her lack of engagement within New Westminster is being propped up by these endorsements. To some people, that’s a plus. The NWDLC interviews candidates and endorses those that it believes offer progressive views. New Westminster is a relatively progressive city, so it only stands to reason that more people in New West would want to vote for someone that shares those views, and the endorsement by the NWDLC is a good way for candidates to show they have progressive views.
That process tends to work best in general elections where candidates are first nominated to be elected, after which they seek the NWDLC endorsement. In this by-election, a few people were interviewed by the NWDLC first, the NWDLC chose Beattie to be the endorsed candidate, and then Beattie filed her nomination papers. This strikes me as backwards and almost anti-democratic as it probably discouraged those who sought but did not receive the endorsement from running. Frankly, the more people running the better, and if even one potential candidate didn’t run because the NWDLC wouldn’t endorse them, then that’s a failure of democracy that lies in the NWDLC’s lap.
With the NWDLC endorsement comes The Machine. I’ve been told that the following is all optional but the majority of NWDLC-endorsed candidates seemed to have accepted this help in the past election. The Machine is the colloquial name for all of the machinery that comes with a political campaign: phone banks, lists of phone numbers and email addresses of potential supporters, door-to-door canvassing assistance, and election day support (driving potential supporters to the polls, calling supporters to remind them to vote, that sort of thing). Candidates often pool their resources to save money and have a more effective campaign, but additional support comes from outside (I’ve heard rumours that this is supplied by the NDP, but don’t hold me to that). Candidates are obviously free to accept and reject any part of this support; they don’t need to take all of it if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
Side note and full disclosure: in the last municipal election I supported Patrick Johnstone both financially and by volunteering. At least, I tried to volunteer for him, but when I showed up at the campaign office he was sharing with other NWDLC-endorsed candidates (another Machine perk), I ended up being a runner to help out other volunteers who were volunteering for the entire suite of NWDLC candidates. Someone I know was in the same boat: volunteering for Johnstone but actually phone-banking on behalf of a different candidate altogether. This isn’t to call him out (I know he did a hell of a lot of campaigning on his own and raised a shedload of money from individuals in New West), this is merely to throw a little light on how The Machine works.
In this by-election there is no pooling of resources because there’s only one NWDLC-endorsed candidate. That hasn’t stopped other parts of The Machine from being put into action, however. I’ve received three phone calls (two automated, one real person) and one email from Dee Beattie’s campaign, even though I’m pretty sure I never gave her my phone number. My phone number came from someone’s list. Maybe the NDP’s — I’m a member so it could have come from them.
The Machine is up and running, and one would think that Mary Lalji stands at a disadvantage because of it.
But I think that’s actually her strength. Lalji has completely different roots in the community. She’s heavily involved with Hyack Football, which is an extremely successful group in New West. Hyack Football isn’t just the high school football team, they also do youth football and cheerleading starting from kindergarten. They’re very involved in the community, not just as an organization but they encourage students to become engaged in the community. They’re a Big Deal in New Westminster, and Lalji definitely gains support because of it.
She also works at Key West Ford, which is a major sponsor of a number of festivals and events in New Westminster. Hell, she’s their Public Relations Manager, so you know she’s got contacts with the community through that. A community that actually knows someone is more likely to support them, and this is Lalji’s strength.
A friend of mine asked me if I thought the blowback from The Machine would be as bad if Lalji was the endorsed candidate. I think it would have still been there, but not nearly as strong. There are people who are going to vote against the NWDLC-endorsed candidate no matter what. You can’t appease them, so there’s no sense in trying. But Lalji comes from outside the labour camp. She’s not a union member like Beattie is. She has strong ties to local organizations and businesses that have nothing to do with labour. There are people I know who are big backers of Hyack Football who are likely going to vote for Lalji because of that, and with an NWDLC endorsement I think they still would, because the NWDLC endorsement would have less influence than her ties to Hyack Football or other community outreach she’s done. She could have easily said “look, the NWDLC endorsement is nice because it shows I have progressive ideas, but my strength comes from my community ties”, which would have been a good way to defuse any naysayers.
Lalji’s true endorsement comes from her ties to the community and not the NWDLC. Having both endorsements would have been powerful, and if the NWDLC interviewed and rejected her, I think that’s a mistake on their part.
So now the only real differentiation between the two candidates is their backers. Lalji is backed by a large part of the community of New Westminster, and Beattie is endorsed by the NWDLC and not much of the community. All things being equal, this by-election is Hyack Football vs. The Machine.
So here’s my prediction: in this by-election I think that the NWDLC endorsement of Dee Beattie will be a larger negative than it was perceived to be in previous elections. I don’t see Mary Lalji losing this election.
Please note that this isn’t me endorsing Mary Lalji. I believe that voting is a personal and private matter, and I’m not going to tell you who I’m going to vote for. I also believe in the Dogwood’s Initiative’s views on endorsements: read the facts, make up your own mind, and most importantly go vote for the candidate you believe in and not the candidate someone tells you to vote for.