A funny thing happened to Derek Corrigan on the run up to the 2018 municipal election. The famously stubborn Burnaby mayor changed his mind.
Or, more likely, the specter of political defeat opened his eyes to new ideas such as not kicking so many poor people out of their affordable homes. Burnaby council announced a sudden about face last week that will slow the destruction of affordable rental apartments.
It has been said that years of so-called “demovictions” (where residents are kicked out of older apartments that are knocked down to make way for new condo towers) in Burnaby could end Corrigan’s political career this fall.
But could that issue also end up hurting the Vancouver mayoral candidacy of Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart?
Corrigan represents a paradox in B.C. politics. As mayor, he has been a union-backed, self-described socialist who embraces big condo developments apparently over the needs of low-income residents. His city is dotted with new 45- to 50-storey tower developments.
It is predicted that thousands of Burnaby’s poorest citizens will lose the roofs over their heads while the city government — flush with a billion dollars of development levies in its bank account — charges ahead with its plans to turn Metrotown into the region’s new downtown.
Over the years I have been one of the only media commentators to call it for what it is — a disgrace.
But Corrigan could not have achieved this without a complicit council. Nor could he have razed so many three-storey apartment blocks without the tacit approval from other levels of government.
Ground zero for the demovictions is the federal riding of Burnaby South, where Stewart has been the Member of Parliament while all this destruction has taken place. He plans to step down from his current job in September, having campaigned for mayor since May while sitting as an MP.
Stewart would not have missed what was happening in his backyard. He could probably see the wrecking balls swinging through the front window of his constituency office, located mere blocks from where condo towers pop up like mushrooms.
Though running as an “independent” in Vancouver, there is nothing to indicate that Stewart plans to shed his credentials as an NDP partisan. Stewart also recently received the endorsement of the Vancouver District Labour Council (VDLC).
By contrast, the New Westminster and District Labour Council has endorsed Corrigan’s competitor for mayor, firefighter Mike Hurley.
The NWDLC went even further by choosing not to endorse Corrigan’s council colleagues — incumbent members of BCA Team. As their secretary treasurer Janet Andrews told Burnaby Now, “We elect people who represent our values.”
In Vancouver, we also want to elect people who represent our values. Which begs the question, where has Stewart been while his most disadvantaged constituents were kicked to the curb?
My searches show no indications he has spoken up against the demovictions, nor to my knowledge has Stewart attended any rallies in defense of these residents. As for making Corrigan accountable for his actions, Stewart has been missing in action. He even told Burnaby Now that Corrigan was “doing a good job.”
Similarly, Stewart also told CBC News that Gregor Robertson’s Vision party “did try to do their best” in running our city.
Homelessness and affordable housing have been central to Vancouver’s political debate since before Robertson became mayor. Our current mayor was elected on a promise to end homelessness outright by 2015 and it was his failure to make a dent in the homeless numbers that cut into his credibility with voters.
By expressing his high regard for the work of Corrigan and Robertson in the face of the failures on affordable housing and homelessness, Stewart gives us a glimpse of how he would lead Vancouver. It is a continuation of partisan politics as we have come to know it in our city.
A complicating factor for Stewart is that he has been endorsed as one of a group that includes council candidates from Vision Vancouver, COPE, OneCity and the Vancouver Greens.
As the Oct. 20 election day draws nearer, some of those candidates might ask themselves if they will run alongside someone who remained silent as the apartments came crashing down.