Ten ridings to watch: Burnaby-Douglas, an NDP homeland

Election 2011: rabble.ca has chosen 10 key ridings across Canada for progressives to watch in the run-up to the May 2 vote, and asked local writers to assess them. The profiles highlight why the riding profiled is important and issues local campaigns are focused upon.

The riding of Burnaby-Douglas was created in 1996, with the majority of residents coming from a wide number of communities. The various Chinese communities make up more than half of that majority, with South Asians at 15 per cent and Filipinos at seven per cent. English is the language spoken at home in 60 per cent of Burnaby homes, with one in five households Chinese speaking. French is not among the top 10 languages and is spoken at home by less than one per cent.

The housing stock in this urban riding is in apartments at 45 per cent, this shows itself in recent growth zones being in high-rise complexes close to Sky Train stations. Retail and service industry jobs are the largest employment sector, followed by engineering and technical professionals. Burnaby-Douglas has a vibrant film industry and both the B.C. Institute of Technology and Simon Fraser University, plus the adjacent high-tech industries. It is also home to petroleum refineries and the terminus of a pipeline bringing Alberta crude to the west coast.

This riding has always elected the NDP. In 2004 the much-loved Svend Robinson suddenly stepped aside after having served as an MP since 1979, in a well-known scandal. His constituency assistant Bill Siksay was nominated and stepped into a difficult situation and held the riding. He was re-elected twice before deciding not to seek a third term.

The winning formula in Burnaby-Douglas starts with the ground game. It has a tradition of riding executives who fundraise enough to spend the limit during the campaign. Then there are the volunteers!!! The riding has a well-trained core of community and trade union activists who always work diligently. The popular mayor, counselors and trustees also volunteer during federal campaigns. Burnaby-Douglas has elected two of the most progressive MPs in our Parliament's history and that, too, has been a motivator. Svend and Bill's advocacy on many issues, in particular immigration, peace and LGBT rights, attracted a bonus volunteer base from all over the Lower Mainland. In the past, they have provided an extra oomph to campaigns.

The current NDP standard bearer, Kennedy Stewart, is a newcomer to Burnaby but not Metro Vancouver. He is a professor in the School of Public Policy at SFU. He ran in Vancouver Centre in 2004, where he came in second to Hedy Fry while gaining the highest NDP vote percentage since 1988.

His main opposition is the Conservative candidate, Ronald Leung, who in 2008 came within 800 votes of defeating Siksay. Leung is an immigrant from Hong Kong who has lived in Burnaby for 30 years and works as a talk show host on Chinese language radio. In both this election and the last there have been questions raised about his non-appearance at debates. He attends all the Chinese-language events but few English-language events. In the last election he primarily targeted the ethnic Chinese vote and appears to be following the pattern again. The local English papers in this election have run unflattering stories and editorials about his non-attendance.

The Liberals nominated Ken Low. His website describes him as a third generation immigrant. He is a municipal engineer and a martial arts master. In 2008 he ran against Libby Davies in the adjacent riding of Vancouver East. Historically, the Liberals have polled in the low 20s with 33 per cent being the high-water mark in 2004 and 2006. It would be astounding if Low returned to 2006 numbers.

The Greens are running Adrianne Merlo. In the last election, the Greens received just under six per cent of the vote. In 2004 and 2006 they polled about 3.5 per cent. The candidate field is rounded out with Lewis Dahlby for the Libertarian Party, George Gidora, the editor of the People's Voice, for the Communist Party, and Brian Sproule for the Marxist-Leninist Party.

I expect this riding will remain NDP. In 2004 and 2006, the Conservative candidate was extremely weak and the Liberal candidate ran a good campaign from a left-liberal position. In 2004 and 2006 there were historic highs in the Liberal vote, but it fell back in 2008 with much of that vote switching to Leung. It will be a good sign for Stewart if Low regains some of the support lost to the Conservatives in 2008.

On Saturday Jack Layton came to Burnaby-Douglas for a monster rally at the First Avenue Film Studio, and the soaring popularity of the leader was very much in evidence. He was on home turf, so to speak.

The Orange surge can go until the vote tomorrow. That new energy and the questions about the Conservative's commitment to all residents should bring about the sixth consecutive NDP win in Burnaby-Douglas.


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