Even without NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, this byelection race a swirling stew of division over race, patriotism, sexuality and the less sexy issues of pipelines, housing affordability and the Liberals’ record.
Usually a federal party leader running in a riding is enough to spark more than a frisson of interest.
It’s certainly attracted the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Ignoring the sometime tradition of not running a candidate against another leader, Trudeau is actively campaigning in Burnaby South this week.
Yet, even if NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh weren’t running there, the Burnaby South byelection race is a crazy one.
It’s a swirling stew of division over race, patriotism, sexuality and the decidedly less sexy issues of pipelines, housing affordability and the Liberals’ record. (That record got a little bit murkier last week with reports that Trudeau and/or his officials pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin.)
Burnaby South is one of the most diverse communities in Canada. In Burnaby, there’s a 73-per-cent chance that two randomly chosen people will be of different ethnicities.
Chinese are the largest ethnic group at 38.7 per cent, followed by Caucasians (29.8 per cent), Indo-Canadians (eight per cent), followed by Filipinos, Koreans, West Asians, Latin Americans, Japanese, Indigenous Canadians and others.
The community is facing tremendous development pressure and housing affordability is the top issue for most voters. It’s also, no doubt, why trolls on social media made the false accusation that Singh owns a $5-million mansion.
Older, low-rise apartments are being demolished at breakneck speed. Between 2007 and 2018, 875 purpose-built rentals were demolished, according to Metro Vancouver. That’s displaced a large number of lower income residents, including many new Canadians, immigrants and refugees.
Replacing them are condo owners as well as those who can afford much higher market rents. The economic disparity is evident in Metro Vancouver’s 2016 housing data book that showed median household income for renters was $45,839 compared to the $80,492 median income of homeowners.
While one might assume that Singh — the first non-white leader of a national party — is the lightning rod when it comes to race, it’s the Liberals’ candidates who have drawn the attention.
Karen Wong resigned after a tweet that referenced both her Chinese-ness and Singh’s Sikh religion. She was replaced by Richard T. Lee, a former four-term MLA.
But Lee is attracting lots of scrutiny on social media with questions raised about his ties to the Chinese Communist Party with dozens of photos tweeted and retweeted showing him alongside high-ranking Chinese officials both here and in China.
This, at a time, when Canadians are jailed in China and Canadian trade targeted by China in retaliation for Canada’s arrest and detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is waiting out the U.S. extradition proceedings in the comfort of her own home in Vancouver.
Then there’s Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson. She’s running for the People’s Party of Canada, which is so new it doesn’t have a full platform.
What its leader (failed Conservative party leadership candidate) Maxime Bernier does espouse is getting rid of supply management (a totally irrelevant issue to most in this urban/suburban riding) and severely limiting immigration (a totally relevant issue here).
Although Bernier is a social liberal, Thompson is an arch-conservative host of a Christian TV talk show. She’s anti-abortion, anti-transgender rights and an outspoken opponent of the current sex education curriculum known as SOGI.
In Burnaby’s October school district election, Thompson got 12,390 votes, finishing third last among the 13 candidates.
In September, she attracted attention outside the courthouse following the first appearance of Ibrahim Ali, a Syrian refugee charged with first-degree murder in the death of Burnaby school girl Marrisa Shen. Thompson had been debating other demonstrators over Canada’s refugee policies when she claims a woman wearing a hijab threw liquid over her.
Independent Valentine Wu was once spokesperson for the Shen family. A former B.C. Green party candidate, the IT consultant told Burnaby Now that he has no platform and that his political opinions don’t matter. He wants to be a conduit for constituents.
And there’s Terry Grimwood, a 66-year-old political gadfly whose plans to form a new national party called Canada Fresh didn’t pan out in time for him to run as its leader.
He claims that he collected enough votes to run the Montreal riding of Outremont and that he failed to get enough signatures to appear on the byelection ballot in the Ontario riding of Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.
Grimwood, who lives in Sechelt, told the local paper that he doesn’t think the byelection should focus on Burnaby issues.
The Conservatives have a credible candidate, but Jay Shin hasn’t attracted as much attention as some of the others, which may be a very good thing for a novice politician in a field like this one.
Shin immigrated with his family, who ran a grocery store in Burnaby. He has two undergraduate degrees, an MBA and a law degree. He practises business law and has taught at two Korean universities as well as in the University of British Columbia’s law faculty.
As for Singh, there’s been lots of talk about knives being sharpened within the NDP in case he fails to win. But how and what is Singh doing in the race itself? More about that in another column.
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