The Burnaby South byelection isn’t your typical byelection.
When Kennedy Stewart resigned his seat to kick off a campaign that led him to the Vancouver’s chair, it set off a domino effect leading to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh packing up his life in Ontario and moving to the west coast.
Singh is just a few days away from finding out if this byelection will be his ticket to the House of Commons. But winning political seats doesn’t come easy. In the NDP leader’s way stands a former long-time B.C. MLA, a political newcomer lawyer and a well-known religious television host.
Let’s meet the candidates.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP
Jagmeet Singh just celebrated his 40th birthday. Now he wants to mark a new milestone, entering the House of Commons. The federal NDP leader was born in Scarborough, Ont. to parents who emigrated to Canada from India.
Singh bounced around as a child, living with his grandparents in India before moving to St. John’s, Newfoundland and then Windsor, Ontario. He earned a biology degree at the University of Western Ontario before picking up a law degree at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 2005.
Before entering politics, Singh was a criminal defence lawyer.
WATCH: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh on his parties housing plan
Then, in 2011, Singh had his political breakthrough. He first ran federally, falling just 539 votes behind Conservative candidate Bal Gosal in the riding of Bramalee-Gore-Malton. Later that year he would run again in the riding, this time for a spot at Ontario’s provincial legislature. He captured the riding by 2,277 votes over the Liberal incumbent to win his spot at Queen’s Park.
After serving for nearly six years in Toronto, Singh announced plans to run for the federal NDP leadership. In October 2017, Singh swept to victory, capturing more than 50 per cent of the votes on the first ballot.
Since his victory, Singh has been forced to lead the NDP from outside the House of Commons. The Burnaby South byelection will give the leader a chance to challenge Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons.
WATCH: Jagmeet Singh on the NDP’s plans to deal with the opioid crisis
One of the first things Singh did after announcing plans to run in Burnaby South was rent a home in the riding with his wife, Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu. He has committed to making Burnaby South his political home and run in the riding in the 2019 federal election no matter what happens in the byelection.
“The issues that matter most to the people of Burnaby South are ones that really resonate with me. Housing, the housing crisis, affordability, access to medication and the environment,” Singh said. “There was a need for someone, the New Democrat leader, to stand in the house and get this government to do what is right.”
Singh’s cultural identity is wrapped into his political identity. He became the first turbaned Sikh to sit at Queen’s Park and is hoping to become the first South Asian political leader to sit in the House Commons.
There have been rumblings that if Singh is unable to win in Burnaby South he will quickly be ousted as the party’s leader. He doesn’t see it that way.
“I can tell you that throughout my political career I have never made a decision out of fear for myself,” Singh said. “I will be the leader that runs the New Democratic Party into the next election without any doubt.
“I felt an immediate connection to the riding when I visited here.”
Richard T. Lee, Liberals
For years, Richard T. Lee was a fixture in British Columbia’s legislature and he knew how to win. Lee represented the riding of Burnaby North for 16 years, winning elections in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013.
His winning streak came to an end in 2017, falling to the NDP’s Janet Routledge as an orange wave took over Burnaby. The government captured all four of the city’s seats.
WATCH (aired January 19): Former BC Liberal MLA Richard Lee named as federal Liberals’ new candidate in Burnaby South
Lee is now hoping to write the next chapter of his political career in Ottawa. The 65-year-old was born in China and entered the Burnaby South byelection in a roundabout way. He was interested in seeking the Liberal’s nomination but was away during the party’s nomination meeting and didn’t throw his hat in the race.
Fast forward months later and the Liberals were in trouble, having to ask candidate Karen Wang to resign after she made inappropriate comments about Singh being of ‘Indian descent’. Lee was now back in Burnaby South and was named by the party as its nominee.
“The former candidate resigned and I got the opportunity to run as the candidate. This is a good opportunity for me to continue my services,” Lee said. “I am running a really positive campaign.”
Lee moved to British Columbia as a teenager and settled in Burnaby in 1986, and has lived there since. He and wife Anne have three children. Lee is quick to point out that although he lives outside the Burnaby South boundaries, one of his sons goes to school at BCIT in the riding.
Before being elected to the B.C. legislature, Lee was a programmer analyst at Canada’s national particle research facility. He has a combined degree from UBC in physics and mathematics, and a Master of Sciences from UBC in applied mathematics.
Neither Gordon Campbell nor Christy Clark ever tapped Lee for their provincial cabinet. But he was given a number of odd jobs for Liberal governments, including Parliamentary Secretary for Traditional Chinese Medicine, Parliamentary Secretary for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism.
In his mind, Lee’s political journey came up short and a foray into federal politics is a way to continue it.
“This is my home. I want to continue to serve the community. That is why I am running and I also believe in the policies of the Liberal Party,” Lee said. “I have been here for a long time. I have been working as an MLA. I have a deep connection. Serving as an MLA I heard a lot of concerns in this area and I hope as MP I can bring those concerns to the government.”
Jay Shin, Conservatives
Jagmeet Singh isn’t the only lawyer in the race. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in human biology, Jay Shin moved on to UBC where he first earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then a law degree.
Shin is now hoping to take his credentials to Ottawa as the Conservative member of parliament for Burnaby South. The corporate lawyer, focused on helping Asian firms invest in B.C., is running for elected office for the first time.
His family moved to Canada when he was young and was raised in part in Burnaby. He doesn’t live in Burnaby South anymore, but his parents still live in the city.
In the 2015 federal election, the Conservative candidate fell 3,653 votes short of winning the riding finishing third.
Shin and his wife, Esther, have three teenage daughters. When his family first immigrated to Canada they operated a grocery store in torward and lived about the store. The Shin family then moved west, settling in Burnaby.
WATCH HERE: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meets rivals in byelection debate
“This is where I grew up. After being in Canada for 44 years it’s an opportunity to give back to a country that gave me so much,” Shin said. “As a business owner I have helped small businesses in Burnaby. They need to get ahead to create sustainable jobs.”
Shin said he has already been confirmed as the Burnaby South Conservative candidate in that race. His main goal in running is to address affordability mainly by keeping taxes low and supporting business growth.
Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, People’s Party of Canada
As the first woman to run for the People’s party of Canada, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson is already making history.
It’s a pretty small sample size, through, with the PPC still in its infancy as a political party. Led by former Conservative minister Maxime Bernier, the party is largely unknown to Canadians.
WATCH: SOGI presents as civic election issue despite being a provincial matter
Tyler Thompson is trying to change that. She ran in the fall for a place on the Burnaby school board after gaining some political notoriety for being a vocal opponent of the province’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) resource for schools.
“I had a perfect life a year and a half ago. I had two national television shows. I had a book. Then I heard about that there was a school curriculum called SOGI,” Tyler Thompson said. “Millions of people agree with me. I am not a lone wolf. Different religious groups agree with me. Ethnic groups agree with me.”
Tyler Thompson’s opposition to SOGI has led many to call her homophobic. The former religious television host isn’t against transgendered or homosexual people, but says she’s against the way the SOGI curriculum is being taught. She says Jagmeet Singh called her a homophobe, a claim she says is far from the truth.
WATCH: School board candidates run against LGBTQ resources in B.C. schools
“I’m not a homophobe. I bet I have more gay and trans friends than he does,” Tyler Thompson said. “I don’t think I am afraid of gay people.
“I think when little boys and little girls might be a different gender, it has gone too far.”
Even though SOGI is a provincial issue, it is hard to go a few sentences talking to Tyler Thompson without it coming up. She says she lost her job hosting a television show with 700 Club Canada after ‘activists’ called her work, Vision TV, Joy, the CRTC and the advertisers for ‘speaking against this ideology’.
She has now found a home in the People’s Party of Canada.
Tyler Thompson is a strong pro life advocate and believes a debate over the issue should be had in the House of Commons. Bernier is pro choice. The pair say there is no home for racists in their party, although they have been referred to as such plenty.
One of Tyler Thompson’s main reasons concerns is over too much immigration and not a strict enough vetting process for new immigrants.
“I don’t associate with racists,” Tyler Thompson said. “We need to come together where we can respect diversity and democracy.”
When asked why she wants to be a member of parliament, she pointed to the fear she believes Canadians are living with.
“I came want to run as MP when I realized that our nation was in trouble. That people lack courage,” Tyler Thompson said. “In fact, Canadians don’t feel they have the kind of freedoms or free speech they once thought they did.
“People are afraid. They literally are afraid to speak.”