British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Burnaby-Edmonds riding profile

A look at Burnaby-Edmonds, one of the 87 electoral districts in British Columbia.

Raj Chouhan seeks re-election in an area of Burnaby that has become more left-leaning this century

The boundaries of this riding have remained unchanged from four years ago, bordered by Boundary Road on the west, Imperial Street to the north, Fourth Street to the east, and 10th Avenue and the Fraser River to the south. (Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Burnaby-Edmonds, one of four ridings in Burnaby — and one that is likely to get less attention on election night than the other seats in the city.

1. Picking out the differences between Burnaby's four electoral ridings can be difficult.

North, Lougheed, Edmonds and Kingsway all have quirky boundary lines, and all feature a mix of many of Burnaby's defining demographic features: long-established, working-class ethnic neighbourhoods; transit nodes with rapid, condo-heavy development; stretches of newer, expansive single-family homes built by people without the means to do so in Vancouver; and clusters of low-income apartments and homes that haven't changed for decades. 

But Burnaby-Edmonds's MLA knows the political difference.   

"When I was first elected in 2005, I was the only NDP MLA elected. In 2009, we got two and in 2013 we got three," said Raj Chouhan.

"My seat is very strong NDP traditionally when you look at the margins, compared to the other Burnaby constituencies."

2. His optimistic talk is supported by history.

The riding of "Burnaby" first appeared in the 1924 election, and the NDP and its predecessor party, the CCF, have won the majority of seats in 17 of the 25 elections since then.

Edmonds has had various boundary changes since its first election in 1966 but has gone to the NDP in 10 of 13 elections.

Containing all of Burnaby, south of Imperial and west of Fourth Street, the riding doesn't include a fast-densifying hub like Brentwood, Lougheed or Metrotown — but rapid change is still occurring.

"Some of those three storey, four storey walk-ups have now been converted to 45, 50-storey highrises. That has put a lot of pressure on the affordable rental units," he said.

"I have seen so many changes here in the last 12 years. Most of the many small businesses have come and opened there. Since the housing crisis, the rental costs have started to go up. Some people have not been able to afford to stay here." 

3. Burnaby-Edmonds doesn't have the lowest percentage of native English speakers (that would be Deer Lake), but it may be the most diverse riding in the city. 

It has a much larger Hindi, Punjabi, Farsi and Filipino population, a smaller Italian one, and a full third of people (33.1 per cent) have a mother tongue other than English, Chinese or Punjabi — the third highest in B.C. 

"Burnaby-Edmonds is a very diverse community. In our community, we speak over 100 different languages," said Chouhan. 

"We call this area the city of festivals because of the diversity. We learn from each other and we celebrate each other."

4. Who who running against Chouhan this election?

The B.C. Liberal candidate is Garrison Duke, director of employment at Abbotsford Community Services and owner of his own mentorship and career coaching company.

The Green Party is Valentine Wu, an IT consultant who has worked with BC Hydro, Bank of America and Telus. 

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

The NDP's strength in this riding comes from the areas to the east of Griffiths Drive in and around the Edmonds neighbourhood, where it has received over 70 per cent of the vote in some polling stations. 

6. What about the Liberals? 

The Sussex-Nelson area of Burnaby, south of Rumble between Willingdon and Royal Oak, tends to be favourable ground for the B.C. Liberals, along with the homes surrounding Byrne Creek Ravine Park. 

7. Chouhan isn't the most high-profile of MLAs, but he says that suits him just fine. 

The founding president of the Canadians Farmworkers' Union is the only member of the NDP Caucus seeking re-election that isn't a critic for any portfolio, instead sitting as assistant deputy Speaker. 

"In some ways, when I am sitting there in question period, the temptation is to get up and ask questions. But what I do with those issues when i get them, I pass them on to my colleagues ... and they ask on my behalf," he said.

He then recounts a time when he helped an 80-year-old woman get new dentures — after the Ministry of Social Development rejected her claim and bought a blender instead — as the type of constituency work he's most passionate about.

"I approached the minister. I spoke on her behalf. Within a day, we got her new dentures. Those are the kinds of issues that we deal with. Sometimes. people don't know. You don't see that on the front page of the newspaper ... but it's all over the map, and I love working with people."