Could demovictions be the issue that ends Derek Corrigan's reign in Burnaby?
A high-profile former firefighter has entered city's mayoral race, hoping to end BCA's decades-long dominance
It's no surprise that housing will be a big issue in B.C.'s municipal elections this October — but the specific debates are centred around different things in different cities.
In Burnaby, that thing is demoviction: the somewhat regular occurrence of older low-rise apartments being torn down to make way for newer condos.
On Monday, city council cancelled scheduled public hearings for two proposed high-rises in the Metrotown area, asking the developers to try to incorporate social housing in the proposal before moving forward.
Then, on Tuesday, former B.C. Professional Firefighters' Association president Michael Hurley announced he would be running for mayor of Burnaby, seeking to unseat five-term incumbent Derek Corrigan, with the issue of demovictions and affordable housing at the forefront.
'The mayor has no empathy'
"There are [people] who've lived there for 46 years and kicked out on the street with really nowhere to go," said Hurley, who is proposing a task force to look at the issue.
"This mayor has no empathy for this type of person anymore. Empathy seems to have left the city of Burnaby and I want to change that."
Corrigan rejected that characterization, saying the city had increased the supply of housing in order to help keep units affordable.
"I take offence at anyone saying there's a lack of empathy ... because it is an area of great concern, and one that we probably spend the bulk of our work trying to deal with," he said, adding that the city had added more than 1,000 units of non-profit housing units in recent years.
"The problem for us was it was utterly hopeless with the previous government in attempting to get any funding for these kinds of programs, so we were left with no alternatives whatsoever, and it was impossible for cities to take that on alone."
'He's smart, he's stubborn on certain things'
Corrigan's view on why the city didn't take drastic action on social housing isn't surprising to Jennifer Moreau, who covered Corrigan as a reporter with the Burnaby Now for a decade.
"He's smart, he's stubborn on certain things, and he alienates the left on others, mainly housing and homelessness," she said.
"They run the city fiscally somewhat conservatively, and they've got a good healthy reserve, but they tend to surprise people ... on certain things. Corrigan can often be a controversial figure."
Leading the city to a place where it has more than a billion dollars in reserve — and having recently been elected chair of the powerful mayors' council that oversees TransLink — has put Corrigan in a powerful political position.
Which may be why Hurley has begun his campaign speaking as much about personality as he does policy.
"I think this mayor has lost touch with the citizens of Burnaby and he's lost the ability to listen to anyone but himself," he said.
Easy as BCA
Even if Hurley's personal attacks stick, he'll face an uphill fight.
Corrigan's party, the Burnaby Citizens Association, has led the city since 1987 and swept every seat on council in the past three elections.
"We're at a disadvantage, but if you have a good message and good policy, people will vote for their policies rather than what they traditionally might be their party affiliation," admits Rick McGowan, who plans to seek a council seat with the Green Party — which is running former D.O.A. frontman Joe Keithley as its mayoral candidate.
"Previous elections, mayor Corrigan would have an excuse of oh, we can't work with the federal government and provincial government. Now that excuse is gone," he said.
For his part, Corrigan suggested — with some of his trademark defiance — a different take on why Hurley and the Greens were focusing on affordable housing.
"I don't think there's anyone in opposition around the Lower Mainland who isn't running on the housing issue, because they look at it as being an issue that has a lot of concern by the public, and if they can offer some other solution, or say they've got another solution, they hope to attract votes," he said.
"I've never heard of Mike Hurley being interested in housing issues before. But you know, it's opportunistic, and I think that's what happening right now."
CBC Vancouver is exploring the mayoral campaigns in each of Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities leading up to civic elections on Oct. 20.