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British Columbia Liberals name former MLA as new candidate in Burnaby by-election against Singh

Richard Lee, who will be the replacement by-election candidate for the Liberal Party in the Burnaby South riding, reacts to applause from supporters during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Jan. 19, 2019.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The federal Liberals have named a former B.C. legislature member to replace their candidate in the Burnaby South by-election where federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is trying to secure a seat in Parliament.

Richard Lee, who represented Burnaby North as a provincial Liberal for 16 years until being defeated in 2017, said Sunday he was appointed as party candidate for the Feb. 25 vote after a telephone call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week.

“He said that I would be a good candidate,” said Mr. Lee, who had considered seeking the nomination before it went to Karen Wang, but ruled out the possibility due to a trip that caused him to miss the nomination deadline.

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Now Mr. Lee says his candidacy presents an opportunity to try to keep serving the community he has lived in for 32 years. He said he was the only candidate to submit credentials to succeed Ms. Wang, who stepped down last week over social-media comments referencing Mr. Singh’s ethnic background.

Mr. Lee said Mr. Trudeau called on Wednesday, the day Ms. Wang’s exit was announced. The following day, she sought a second chance, but the party said no.

The Toronto Star quoted Ms. Wang in remarks made on the Chinese-language social-media platform WeChat as noting to her supporters that she is “the only Chinese candidate” in the race while further identifying Mr. Singh as being of “Indian descent.” She subsequently said those remarks were written by campaign volunteers and she is not a racist.

Ms. Wang had talked about running as an independent. However, in a Sunday interview, she said she had second thoughts because she is three months pregnant and has decided to focus on family commitments.

Mr. Lee called Ms. Wang’s comments inconsistent with federal Liberal values on equality and multiculturalism.

He said he respects Mr. Singh as NDPLeader, but looked forward to comparing his own record of service to Burnaby to that of Mr. Singh, who has moved to the riding since announcing his candidacy. Mr. Lee also wants to debate how to best grow the economy.

Mr. Lee faces the challenge of trying to catch up with Mr. Singh and Jay Shin of the federal Conservatives, who have been campaigning in the riding vacated when former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart quit to run to be Vancouver mayor. “It will not be easy,” he said.

The former programmer analyst was first elected in the 2001 BC Liberal Party sweep of all but two provincial seats. He served in parliamentary secretary roles and was also a deputy speaker. Despite the name, the BC Liberals have no official ties to the federal party. They are, instead, a coalition of federal Liberals and federal Conservatives.

On Sunday, Mr. Singh said he welcomed Mr. Lee to the race, but would stick to his strategy of highlighting issues such as the challenge facing the public to secure adequate housing. “For me, the strategy doesn’t change because the opponent changes,” he said.

In a statement, the Conservatives' communications director said the Liberals fumbled once in rolling out a candidate. “Now they’ve rushed in a back-up candidate in hopes residents (in Burnaby South) will forget how they treated voters the first time. Meanwhile, in the NDP, we have them treating this riding as a political stepping stone for their leader," said Cory Hann.

Editor’s note: (January 21) An earlier headline for this article stated the B.C. Liberals named the candidate. In fact, the unaffiliated federal Liberals named the candidate.
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