Campaigns hit high gear in Burnaby South, where NDP leader seeks a seat

WATCH: The frontrunning candidates in the race to elect a new MP for Burnaby South open up campaign offices. As Paul Johnson reports, the NDP even turned to a high profile former Burnaby MP for support.

With the race officially underway in the Burnaby South byelection, the major party candidates are wasting no time in kicking their campaigns into high gear.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who is hoping to finally win a seat in Parliament more than a year after winning his party’s top job, was joined by a former party icon as he opened his campaign office on Sunday.

“I was in Parliament when the Liberals killed social housing in the ’90s,” former MP Svend Robinson told the assembled party faithful, hammering on one of Singh’s core campaign themes.

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“How many units of seniors’ housing have been built in Burnaby by Liberals and Conservatives? None.”

Singh, for his part, sought to differentiate himself from the other major parties in a riding that has traditionally voted NDP.

“Will a Liberal backbencher actually do something to make sure there’s medication coverage for all? Will a Conservative member stand up in the House of Commons and push for a solution to housing?” he asked supporters.

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“Will either the Liberals or the Conservatives push for real action on climate change? They’re too busy continuing to subsidize fossil fuel companies and buying pipelines.”

But while Burnaby South has traditionally been painted bright orange, the race will be by no means a slam dunk for the NDP.

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Former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who vacated the seat to become mayor of Vancouver, only won by about 500 votes in the 2015 election.

The Liberals, who came second in that riding, plan to mount a stiff challenge and have wasted no time in pointing out that Singh hails from Ontario and lacks roots in the riding.

“I landed in Burnaby South 20 years ago. I raised my family in Burnaby South,” said Liberal candidate and daycare operator Karen Wang at her campaign office launch.

“I have two young children and I set up my business in Burnaby South.”

Wang, too, is promising an investment in housing and health care.

And she will have her own work cut out for her, campaigning in a riding where pipeline politics are always front and centre — while running to sit in a Liberal government that spent $4.5 billion buying the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

“I know some people have this concern, and right now my opinion is when we grow the economy at the same time we protect our environment, it will be balanced,” she told Global News.

“I’m with the party’s policy. At the same time, I respect people’s opinions in the community,” she added.

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Conservative candidate Jay Shin, a business lawyer and political neophyte, has been pounding the pavement and knocking on doors and says the people he’s hearing from want fiscal restraint.

“They feel like they’re taxed to death. The response I’m getting is the NDP’s socialist policy of high taxes and spending doesn’t work,” he said.

“People talk about what we went through in the ’90s when we had the NDP government here in the province; we became a have-not province.”

WATCH: What will it take for Jagmeet Singh to win in B.C.?

Shin says he recognizes that he’ll have an uphill battle winning in a riding that’s historically voted left of centre but that he’s ready for the challenge — and optimistic about his challenges.

“Maybe I’m an underdog, but that’s fine,” he said.

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“But really, I think it’s time for a change. I sense that when I speak with people. We have a new mayor here because they felt that the NDP city council here wasn’t working for them.”

The federal Green Party has opted not to run a candidate, extending so-called “leader’s courtesy” to Singh.

Maxime Bernier’s new People’s Party of Canada has nominated former Christian broadcaster and anti-SOGI activist Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson.

Burnaby South goes to the polls on Feb. 25.

—With files from Paul Johnson

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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