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Canada Liberal candidate in Burnaby-South by-election quits over social-media comments

Liberal candidate Karen Wang speaks during an interview in Burnaby, B.C., on Jan. 15, 2019.

Laura Kane/The Canadian Press

The Liberal candidate running against NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a federal by-election has withdrawn from the race after comments that referenced his cultural background.

Karen Wang’s departure puts the Liberals in a difficult spot as the party attempts to stymie Mr. Singh’s efforts to take a seat in the House of Commons after he spent the past 15 months leading the NDP from outside Parliament.

A statement from the Liberals on Wednesday morning said Ms. Wang’s comments, made on the Chinese-language social-media platform WeChat, were not “aligned with the values of the Liberal Party of Canada” and the party accepted her resignation as a candidate in the Burnaby South riding.

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The resignation comes after the Toronto Star quoted Ms. Wang as noting to her supporters that she is “the only Chinese candidate,” and further identifying Mr. Singh as “of Indian descent.”

The riding was vacated when then-NDP MP Kennedy Stewart resigned to run in his successful campaign to be Vancouver mayor. The by-election, announced last week, will be held Feb. 25 and the Liberals have until Feb. 4 to announce a new candidate.

Adam Pankratz, who came within 547 votes of winning the riding in the 2015 federal election, said in an interview Wednesday that the Liberals could have a fighting chance if they find a candidate with some profile.

Mr. Pankratz, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s business school, had previously ruled out a run in this by-election race. He said, however, that timing is against his party.

“We don’t have a lot of lead time to get the candidate out there,” he said. “It makes it much more difficult.”

Braeden Caley, senior communications director for the federal Liberals, said the party is considering its options.

“With this resignation just having taken place so recently, we’ll have more to discuss on the question in due course,” he said in a statement.

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Cyrus Eduljee, who placed second in the nomination race that Ms. Wang won, did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on whether he was interested in replacing Ms. Wang in the race.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Ms. Wang said she regretted the remarks.

“In trying to speak about my own story and the importance of people of all different backgrounds getting involved in this important by-election, I made comments online that also referenced Jagmeet Singh’s cultural background,” the statement said.

“My choice of words wasn’t well-considered and didn’t reflect my intent and for that, I sincerely apologize to Mr. Singh."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is interviewed during his door-to-door by-election campaign in Burnaby, B.C., on Jan. 12, 2019.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Mr. Singh said he was not offended by the comments.

“I didn’t take it personal at all,” he said speaking to reporters during a break in campaigning.

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“I am concerned with politics that divide communities, that pit one against another. There’s too much of that.”

He said there is nothing wrong with a candidate reaching out to organize in their community, especially among communities that have been underrepresented.

“The difference is we don’t want to have divisions based on racial lines,” he said.

Valentine Wu, a former provincial candidate for the Green Party who lives in Burnaby South, said he thought the response to Ms. Wang’s post was an overreaction and not offensive to other ethnic groups.

“No offensive words at all. My personal understanding is she just described the facts … I don’t see any offensive meanings against [South Asian] Canadians” he said.

He said Ms. Wang was attempting to highlight her Chinese roots to encourage other Chinese Canadians to vote for her, but Mr. Wu said it’s a strategy he would not prefer.

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Many Chinese-Canadian candidates promote themselves and their platforms on WeChat, but Mr. Wu said he personally abandoned using the social-media site because he felt it pigeonholed him.

“[Those candidates] put themselves in a smaller box. If you are in that small box, you cannot avoid thinking that way, and people outside will think, okay, Chinese vote for Chinese.”

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