The Star Vancouver: Metrotown rental demolitions shake up Burnaby’s left-wing political dynasty
Posted July 17, 2018
Burnaby politics is in for a shakeup. And the one issue that’s driving the change is a rapid loss in older rental buildings to make way for new condo towers in the suburb’s Metrotown area.
Posted July 17, 2018
Joe Keithley had planned to run for mayor of Burnaby with the Green Party — but he’s decided to run for council instead in order to support Mike Hurley, an independent mayoral candidate.
The motivation behind the move, Keithley said, is to mount a united opposition against Derek Corrigan, who has served as mayor since 2002 and on city council for 15 years before that. His party, the Burnaby Citizens Association, holds every city council and school board seat.
Keithley’s decision is one more indication that after years of little opposition to the BCA, Burnaby politics is in for a shakeup. And the one issue that’s driving the change is a rapid loss in older rental buildings to make way for new condo towers in the suburb’s Metrotown area.
“When (Corrigan) makes mistakes, he doubles down on those mistakes instead of adjusting plans,” said Hurley, a retired firefighter and former president of Burnaby’s firefighter’s union. “Plans like the Metrotown plan, where we’re creating more homelessness by the ridiculous way we’ve approached looking after people who’ve lived in that area for 20 to 46 years.”
While other municipalities have also encouraged denser development near Skytrain stations, no other Metro Vancouver city has seen the absolute rate of loss that Burnaby has experienced. According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rental housing survey, Burnaby lost 712 rental units between 2010 and 2017. Coquitlam had the next-highest rate with 94 fewer rental apartment units in the same period; while Vancouver led the way in creating 2,452 rental apartments.
The rapid demolition of older three- and four-storey apartment buildings has sparked protests, and activists groups like ACORN and Against Displacement have been helping to organize residents who fear they will lose their homes.
Murray Martin, an organizer with ACORN, said he knew getting unions on board would be key to changing city hall. He said ACORN focused on speaking to the “grassroots” of union membership, and bringing awareness of the eviction issue to the BCA’s base of political supporters.
The BCA normally draws strong support from unions: In 2014, the party pulled in $202,200 from union donations, compared to $275,000 from businesses, according to Elections BC. The party usually wins an endorsement from the New Westminster District Labour Council, an umbrella group for unions in Burnaby and New Westminster.
Earlier this year, the B.C. Government Employees Unions called for a moratorium on rental demolitions. Paul Finch, treasurer of the BCGEU, said over 70 union members are directly affected by the demolitions.
Then on June 28, the New Westminster District Labour Council voted to endorse Hurley instead of Corrigan, and declined to endorse any sitting BCA city councillors, according to the Burnaby Now.
Corrigan reacted to the loss of union support by accusing Hurley of “stack(ing) the meeting with firefighters,” a charge Hurley denied.
Over a three-day period, StarMetro reached out to Corrigan and all seven of Burnaby’s city councillors for this story. Corrigan’s executive assistant told StarMetro he was busy with a family emergency, and that the councillors were also very busy.
The party provided Ryan Stewart, a first-time school board candidate, for an interview. Stewart said he had little sense of how much the Metrotown demolitions issue would affect the election and is focused on education issues. Stewart said he’s been a longtime member of the NDP, and decided to run with the BCA because of its “strong record of trusted and responsible leadership.”
The provincial NDP has been another bulwark of support for the BCA. Members of the BCA must also be NDP members, an arrangement former Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart called “unique.” The two parties help each other during campaigns, and a former BCA school trustee, Katrina Chen, and a former councillor, Anne Kang, now hold provincial NDP seats.
Stewart is also running as an independent Vancouver mayoral candidate. He said he has often advocated for renters and succeeded in getting federal funding renewed for several housing co-ops in Burnaby.
Stewart declined to say whether he had ever discussed the Metrotown apartment demolitions in his frequent meetings with Corrigan.
“I think you’re going to have to talk to Derek, because I don’t really think I should be revealing private conversations,” he said.
It’s not just redevelopment at Metrotown, Hurley said, but growth in centres like Brentwood and Lougheed that is putting pressure on communities. He said services for densifying areas have lagged, while the city sits on a billion-dollar reserve fund, much of that money raised through the city’s practice of asking for community amenity contributions in cash from developers.
“It’s wonderful to have a cash surplus,” Hurley said. “But if the cost of the cash surplus is displacing people, the cost is too great.”
If he is elected, Hurley said he will put in place a task force to revisit the plans for those communities to make sure they include enough services like community centres and day cares, and “how we’re going to address immediately the people who need to be housed, and how we’re going to move ahead with that.”
Hurley said he isn’t interested in running with a slate of councillors, but rather wants to work with other councillors from the BCA, Greens, other parties or independents.