Race to watch: Demoviction debate animates the battle for Burnaby

Housing is a hot topic across all of Metro Vancouver in the coming municipal election, but in few places is debate as intense as in B.C.’s third-largest city.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the city of Burnaby saw a net loss of 712 rental units between 2010 and 2017.

A plan to transform Metrotown into Burnaby’s “downtown,” including the rezoning and demolition of hundreds of rental units, has also made the city ground zero for what critics have labelled “demoviction.”

B.C. municipal election 2018: Burnaby

The race for the mayor’s office and council hasn’t always been close in Burnaby.

Incumbent Derek Corrigan is in his fifth term as mayor and served 15 years as a city councillor before that.

In the 2014 civic election, his Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA) slate swept council and took the mayors’ office with 75 per cent of the vote. The NDP-affiliated party has won all the seats on council and school board in every election since 2008.

WATCH: Burnaby mayor candidate Mike Hurley announces affordable housing plan

Corrigan’s biggest challenge comes from Mike Hurley, a former ranking officer in the city’s fire department and former head of its firefighters’ union.

Hurley has pledged a moratorium on new developments in the Metrotown area until homes at a similar rent can be found for displaced renters.

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“The Metrotown Plan that has been pushed through is a deeply flawed plan, one that seems to have a singular focus on small, luxury apartments that caters certainly to a sector of the population,” Hurley told Global News.

“It seems crazy to me to have a plan that totally ignores the people that are living in that area already.”

When it comes to creating new affordable housing, Hurley is pledging to set up a task force with a six-month deadline to propose solutions.

WATCH: Derek Corrigan launches re-election campaign

Corrigan argues Burnaby’s housing woes have long been out of the city’s hands and says he’s confident citizens will understand that.

“People are entitled to tear down their own buildings, and they are entitled to rebuild under existing zoning,” Corrigan said.

“The one thing that was stopping it was the promise that there would be higher zoning and more density. And that was a way we could get more money for the housing that was lost.”

Corrigan and the BCA have announced plans to make Burnaby B.C.’s first city to use newly created rental-only zoning laws, an action he said is only now possible with a friendly government in Victoria.

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“I’m hopeful, we’ll be able to do it across all of the existing rentals to ensure that if, in fact, a new development is brought through, it will allow us to replace the existing rental,” Corrigan said.

In a sign that this race may be closer than elections past, Hurley has snagged the endorsement of the New Westminster District and Labour Council (NWDLC), along with the Burnaby Teachers Association (BTA).

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The NWDLC is backing the rest of the Burnaby Citizens Association slate, while the BTA is endorsing its school board councillors.

Two other people have put their name forward for mayor.

Sylvia Gung is a former council candidate who raised eyebrows with a policy proposal to ban kissing and holding hands in public. Helen Chang is a former school trustee who ran for mayor in 2014.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Wave of changes coming in Metro Vancouver municipal politics

Neither the Burnaby Civic Greens or the Burnaby First Coalition are running a candidate for mayor, but the former is backing Hurley’s campaign.

Green council candidate and former rocker Joe Keithly had initially intended to seek the mayor’s office but pulled out this spring.

“Derek and his party have been around for 30 years … We feel that people want a breath of fresh air, time for a change,” he said.

WATCH: Burnaby unveils new strategy for rental housing

The Greens have also put demovictions at the centre of their campaign and are also calling for a two-year property tax freeze, more cycling infrastructure and a gondola to SFU.

Burnaby First Coalition council candidate Linda Hancott said tax policy will be at the forefront of her slate’s campaign.

“We basically have a tax and horde government,” she said, arguing that Burnaby has a surplus it could be using.

“We could actually put the funds towards the community … it’s poor planning, it’s unimaginative, I think we could actually use that and maybe partially fund some projects of some sort and actually use that and put it to use.

READ MORE: Live B.C. election results 2018: Find your riding and candidates

The slate launched its platform Sunday, calling for a ban on pot sales, more co-ops and secondary suites and a three-year tax freeze.

Housing isn’t the only hot-button issue in the city.

The Trans Mountain pipeline remains an inevitable point in any political discussion in Burnaby.

Corrigan cited his opposition to the pipeline as the key reason he’s fighting for a sixth term in office. Hurley opposes it too, though says he wouldn’t have spent public money to fight it in court when the city’s lawyer said there was a slim chance of success.

The Greens also oppose Trans Mountain, while the BFC says it’s willing to negotiate about the project if there are benefits for the city and safety guarantees.

Crime and safety have also been pushed front and centre in the campaign, in the wake of the killing of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen in Central Park.

READ MORE: B.C. municipal election digest 2018: This week’s top stories

Hurley is calling for cameras to be installed in the park, while the BFC wants 40 new RCMP officers.

Corrigan’s BCA is set to roll out additional policy planks in the days to come.

You can find a full list of candidates and more information on the coming Burnaby election here.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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