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Possible political comeback makes Burnaby North-Seymour a riding to watch

Pipeline politics in Burnaby election riding
WATCH: (Sept. 15) Paul Johnson heads to the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour, where the Trans Mountain pipeline ends, to speak with frontrunning candidates on their position.

The Trans Mountain pipeline’s endpoint is in the middle of Burnaby North-Seymour, making the federal riding a key focus in the upcoming election.

But the pipeline’s expansion is just one of several challenges candidates have to face in a riding that bridges two very different worlds.

Created in 2012, the Burnaby North-Seymour riding bridges parts of both northern Burnaby and North Vancouver, with the Burrard Inlet in the middle. It’s also home to the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, who are chief critics of the pipeline expansion.

READ MORE: Pipeline politics loom large in Burnaby riding at ground zero of Trans Mountain

For NDP candidate Svend Robinson, finding common ground between the two areas — one of which is his hometown — is a tricky road to navigate, but not impossible.

“There’s a lot of rental housing, probably 30, 35 per cent rental housing in North Burnaby,” he added. “On the other side of the water … it’s much more single-family dwellings, it’s much more ethnically homogeneous. It’s a wealthier part of the world, for sure.”

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WATCH: (Feb. 3) Critics raise red flags about water pressure near Trans Mountain’s Burnaby tank farm

Critics raise red flags about water pressure near Trans Mountain’s Burnaby tank farm
Critics raise red flags about water pressure near Trans Mountain’s Burnaby tank farm

But all the candidates agree there are plenty of shared issues and concerns.

“It’s funny because they’re pretty connected,” incumbent Liberal candidate Terry Beech said. “Affordability, economy, environment, childcare, health … [those are] a lot of the big points that are coming up.”

Mounting a comeback

Robinson spent decades representing Burnaby in Parliament under the New Democrat banner, winning seven straight electoral victories until leaving office in 2004.

Now he’s come back in order to help bring an end to the controversial pipeline project once and for all.

“On both sides of the water, there’s huge concern about climate change, huge concern about the devastating impact of an oil spill,” he said.

“This is absolutely the biggest issue. If we’re serious about climate change, if we’re serious about respecting the environment, this project cannot go ahead.”

WATCH: (Feb. 1) NDP candidate Svend Robinson talks Kinder Morgan stance and towing the party line

NDP candidate Svend Robinson talks Kinder Morgan stance and towing the party line
NDP candidate Svend Robinson talks Kinder Morgan stance and towing the party line

If elected, Robinson says he and his fellow NDP MPs would not support a minority Liberal or Conservative government that continued to promote the expansion.

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Robinson pleaded guilty to theft over $5,000 in April 2004 after stealing an engagement ring valued at $64,000 from an auction, but he said he suffered from a mental health disorder and received a conditional discharge. He dropped out of the 2004 race shortly afterward.

But the 67-year-old said he hasn’t faced any questions about the incident on the campaign trail, with concerns instead focusing on issues within the riding itself.

READ MORE: Svend Robinson announces return to politics

WATCH: (Feb. 1) Svend Robinson says controversial past is behind him

Svend Robinson says controversial past is behind him
Svend Robinson says controversial past is behind him

“The issues that come up on the doorstep are the pipeline environment, housing issues, affordability issues, transit, on the North Shore in particular,” he said. “Those are the issues that people care about.

“I’ve knocked on hundreds of doors, and what I’m hearing is that people are glad I’m back, particularly on the Burnaby side.”

Liberals looking to hold on

In the riding’s first federal election in 2015, Beech won with 36 per cent of the vote, scoring just 3,400 more votes than the NDP.

He could face an even tighter race for re-election due to his support of the Liberal government’s handling of the pipeline expansion, despite expressing reservations about the project previously.

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Beech has produced his own report on the issue, which he presented to the ministerial panel convened by the Trudeau government to re-review the pipeline expansion ahead of its initial approval in 2016.

READ MORE: Terry Beech to represent federal Liberals again in contentious Burnaby riding

However, since the project was approved, Beech has been consistent in his backing of the government.

But Beech says he’s committed to representing all constituents of Burnaby North-Seymour, a majority of whom he admits don’t support the pipeline.

WATCH: (June 2) Mayor of Burnaby raises concerns about pipeline safety

The mayor of Burnaby says he’s taken his concerns about pipeline safety to the prime minister
The mayor of Burnaby says he’s taken his concerns about pipeline safety to the prime minister

“When this came up in front of the House of Commons, when we all voted on it, I voted against it because that’s the balance of opinions in this riding,” he said.

“But … it’s much more complex than that, which is why I ask people to read my reports.”

Beech says he’s focused on addressing the “underlying issues” of the expansion — oil spill response, safety on Burnaby Mountain, and whether the pipeline will get in the way of Canada meeting its emissions targets.

“I’m not going to be defined by a single issue,” he said. “It’s my job to represent my constituency, the province and the country from a plethora of views.”

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Environment at all costs

Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Amita Kuttner says she’s the best choice for the riding because she’ll put priorities over politics.

“As Greens, we work across party lines,” she said. “We offer the ability to work with any other party, get a lot done and bring something new different from the old line parties and the way of politicking that I believe so many are tired of.”

Kuttner, who is also the party’s critic for science and innovation policy, is also opposing the Trans Mountain project. Instead, she wants to focus resources on policies that address increased job automation and universal Pharmacare.

READ MORE: Green Party promises ‘robot tax’ on companies that replace workers with machines

“I have heard no legitimate reason to let [the pipeline] go forward, and yet the government continues. So we are staunch in our opposition to this project and we’ll do everything we can to stop it. ”

Kuttner also wants to pursue social housing projects on both sides of the Burrard Inlet to address the affordable housing crisis within the riding.

“People can’t afford their rent,” she said. “They’re living paycheck to paycheck and it’s completely untenable.”

Other candidates not reached

Conservative Party of Canada candidate Heather Leung did not respond to Global News’ request for comment. Visits to her constituency office were also not answered.

The CPC has been clear in its support of the pipeline expansion and has proposed going further by repealing both a tanker ban on B.C.’s north coast and the Liberals’ reform of the country’s pipeline approval process.

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The People’s Party of Canada has also expressed support for the pipeline, but candidate Rocky Dong has not released an official comment on the issue.

WATCH: (April 30) Critics raise concerns about Burnaby “tank farm”

Critics raise concerns about Burnaby “tank farm”
Critics raise concerns about Burnaby “tank farm”

Libertarian candidate Lewis Dahlby, meanwhile, is running under his party’s pipeline platform, which would require provinces to allow pipelines across government land in order to remain in the Confederation.

Global News has reached out to both Dong and Dahlby for comment.

—With files from Sonia Deol, Simon Little and the Canadian Press