The 2018 civic election dealt blows to establishment parties in a handful of Metro Vancouver’s largest municipalities. Vancouver’s ruling Vision Vancouver was wiped out; Surrey First lost all but one seat on council; and in Burnaby, the Burnaby Citizens Association’s long-reigning mayor Derek Corrigan was defeated by independent Mike Hurley.
Last week, the fallout in Burnaby continued when three of seven BCA city councillors quit the party to sit as independents. Colleen Jordan, Dan Johnston and Paul McDonell, who have served as Burnaby councillors for a combined 57 years, resigned en masse, after losing a vote on a motion to further subsidize rents in BC Housing projects to make them “truly affordable.”
To split over this issue seems odd for three councillors whose party under Mr. Corrigan balked at building homeless shelters and enabled a housing policy that led to the demolition of 700 units of low-cost rental housing. It was Mr. Corrigan’s contention that those were provincial responsibilities and should not be funded with city resources. Consequently, very little social housing got built on his watch and many residents displaced by the demovictions were forced to leave town to find affordable housing.
Voters blamed Mr. Corrigan for council’s failure to address Burnaby’s growing social problems and he lost the election. But they gave the BCA councillors another chance and elected seven incumbents. Ms. Jordan and Mr. McDonell say they understood the voters wanted change and point out they have voted in favour of a new housing policy that gives Burnaby renters some of the strongest protections in the country. But their lingering allegiance to Mr. Corrigan has prevented them from lining up with the new mayor and they have been pushed out of the decision-making inner circle.
All of this has sent the BCA into a tailspin. There has been turnover on the executive and a “revisioning” process is under way, party president Lee Loftus says. Party members are even contemplating what once seemed unthinkable – doing away with a requirement that all candidates be members of the NDP, Ms. Jordan says.
Mr. McDonell says the current pace at city hall is proving too much for a man his age – he’ll be 81 in a couple of weeks – and he isn’t planning to run again. Ms. Jordan and Mr. Johnston are dithering, but if they do run, it won’t be with the BCA.
So, where does that leave the party that has dominated Burnaby politics since 1987?
One thing is for sure: It can’t be the same mostly old, mostly white faces on the ballot in 2022.
Mayor Hurley, a former firefighter and solid union man, is an NDP member and would certainly qualify as a mayoral candidate for the BCA. But he’s already won once as an independent and may be in an even better position now to go it alone. He has formed strong ties with three of the remaining four BCA councillors – Pietro Calendino, Sav Dhaliwal and James Wang – and he usually gets the support of Joe Keithley, the lone Green Party member. Most days, this gives him a majority and his big initiatives have all passed.
You might think the BCA would be begging him to run with them two years from now. But Mr. Loftus says the party has not had that conversation and it’s too early to tell whether they will run someone against Mr. Hurley.
It could be that the decision by Mr. Corrigan in 2018 to run one last time will spell the end for the party. Unlike their provincial counterparts, civic parties are not that durable. Surrey First withered after the departure of charismatic Dianne Watts. Vision Vancouver died once Gregor Robertson fell from favour with Vancouver voters who felt he and his council failed to address growing housing affordability problems.
The BCA has lost its leader, and it’s not clear who will be able to take his place. It has failed to inject new life into its ranks. The most successful political parties groom young members with new ideas to run alongside the older folks with experience.
Mr. Hurley has successfully co-opted some of the BCA’s experienced councillors. Add a few young fresh faces into the mix and he might be set to eclipse the venerable party come 2022.
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