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Get to know Burnaby council candidates: Alison Gu

“Burnaby needs to do more to make sure people who live here today won’t get priced out of the city.”
Coun. Alison Gu, Burnaby Citizens Association, is running for re-election to Burnaby city council this October.

Burnaby will head to the polls on Oct. 15 and vote for eight city councillors and seven school trustees. Mayor Mike Hurley has been acclaimed for a second term after receiving no challengers. 

The Burnaby NOW asked every candidate running for office in the upcoming civic election to respond to a questionnaire on issues facing Burnaby today.

Candidates were given strict word limits and a deadline to submit their answers. Answers exceeding the word limits are marked. For details on how and where to vote, see our voter’s guide.

Questionnaires have been edited for clarity.

Name: Alison Gu

Current occupation: Burnaby city councillor

Short biography (50 words maximum): I was born and raised in Burnaby, attending Cascade Heights then graduating from Burnaby North as valedictorian.

In 2017, I cycled from Ottawa to Burnaby against the TMX pipeline and tank farm because of the safety risks to Burnaby residents. I was elected to Burnaby city council in 2021.

Why are you running for city council? (150 words maximum): I am running for re-election to city council to continue my work on affordable housing, climate change, good jobs and a strong local economy, reliable services, and a vibrant and inclusive Burnaby.

While I’ve accomplished a lot in just one year (see for examples), I am compelled to run again to make a positive difference for Burnaby residents and continue the strong work of the BCA on council.

People need to be at the heart of every city policy and plan. Elected representatives should represent and fight for the interests of all people, especially those who have been marginalized. We need leaders who are courageous in their choices and proactive in their problem-solving.

We need leaders who are compassionate, honest, and effective. I strive to embody this approach and these values on city council, because I know it’s what Burnaby residents deserve.

What are the top three issues facing Burnaby today, and what are your plans to address them? (250 words maximum):

Housing and affordability: Burnaby needs to do more to make sure people who live here today won’t get priced out of the city. This means protecting renters and existing neighbourhoods and building new housing that meets the needs of working people, young families and individuals, and seniors.

We need different housing types (four-plexes and six-plexes, rowhouses and townhouses) and more diverse housing tenures (including housing co-ops and purpose-built rentals).

In August 2022, I put forward a motion to facilitate more affordable purpose-built rentals (with incentives tied to affordability), more rentals built for families (e.g. two and three-bedrooms), and more new co-ops. I’ll continue to build on this work if re-elected, including by continuing to support the creation of a Burnaby housing authority to build non-profit, affordable housing for Burnaby residents.

Climate change: From heat waves to flooding to our annual smoke season, we are feeling the impacts of climate change now. The City of Burnaby needs to support everyday residents when these events happen, and to build infrastructure that will both reduce the severity of climate change-induced events and help to create a more livable city.

Transportation: Everyone has experienced issues with traffic and parking, and with the price of gas so high, this is also an affordability issue. We need to plan our city so that residents don’t need a car for most of their daily trips, create safe infrastructure for those that can cycle, walk, or roll, and support expanded public transit.

What is your housing situation? Are you a homeowner, renter or something else (describe)? Do you rent property to others? (50 words maximum): I am a renter. I do not own property, nor do I rent it to others.

Burnaby currently has a population of about 250,000 people and is projected to grow to about 360,000 by 2050. How – and where – do you want the city to accommodate that growth? (200 words maximum): We need more diverse types of housing – including rowhomes, townhomes, four-plexes and six-plexes.

When we build these kinds of housing while incorporating convenience stores, small businesses, parks and greenspace, and amenities, we can create the vibrant and inclusive city that Burnaby has the potential to be. And when we use the tools and levers that municipalities have in smart and effective ways, we can ensure we minimize negative impact and maximize positive impact on those who live in the communities affected. The city’s planning processes should be transparent and community-focused.

Generations of people are being priced out of Burnaby. That includes young families and young adults, and if we don’t do anything about it, it will include our children and their children, too.

By building the types of housing that are needed, we can make every neighbourhood into a community to call home – with all the supports, infrastructure, and amenities that anyone needs. As part of a BCA council, I will focus on supporting good, green jobs in our city including continuing to attract some of the region’s strongest employers.

Some organizations are calling on municipal governments to support the creation of non-profit housing by allowing projects to be built without rezoning requirements. (As an example, Women Transforming Cities wants social housing initiatives of up to 12 storeys to be permitted in multi-family areas and up to six storeys in other residential areas, without a rezoning requirement). Is this something you would support – why or why not? (250 words maximum): There is so much need for non-profit, affordable housing, and yet projects get cancelled all the time because of delays and costs. These housing projects have a mix of affordability to ensure people can find a home that is affordable to them. Because they don’t operate for profit, it means that their margins are razor-thin and can be deeply impacted by changes or delays.

With the entire rezoning process often taking at least two to three years, this means we’re building less of the affordable housing we need. What is built, may be more expensive as a result – because costs have to be passed on to residents.

We must look at the flaws in our current rezoning process if we are serious about ensuring that Burnaby residents don’t get priced out of the city.

Tackling this problem requires widespread consultation and deep engagement with residents, to ensure that we do it right and that we use the tools at our disposal. I am prepared to look at this issue as one of the ways our council can use municipal tools to address housing challenges.

In 2021, 73 people died in Burnaby due to the heat dome. What are your plans for the city to address increasing heat? (150 words maximum): People died in Burnaby in 2021 not because it was too hot outside – but because it was too hot inside.

Events like the 2021 heat dome are extremely dangerous for seniors and vulnerable residents. New buildings must be required to have heating, cooling and air filtration that has a low carbon impact.

But importantly, we need to retrofit older buildings (where most of those who died in 2021 lived). I was a council representative on the Mayor’s Task Force on Retrofitting, which allowed me to advocate for targeted retrofitting to support those most at risk of death from heat waves while ensuring we are creating good, skilled jobs.

On the task force, I also strongly advocated to protect renters to ensure no one gets evicted after a retrofit. We can also build a people-oriented city, with trees interwoven throughout, so we’re decreasing the temperature while building a better Burnaby.

Is crime a concern for you, and how do you hope to address it? (150 words maximum): I’ve been hearing on the doorsteps that people aren’t feeling as safe as they used to. I can relate to this: when I was 15, our house was broken into and everything from my camera to my mother’s jewelry was taken.

The RCMP is a federally directed police force, but council can advocate for more focus on prevention through follow-up and solving cases.

When it comes to other emergencies like mental health and substance use emergencies, we should explore options like programs that allow mental health professionals to respond. That way people get access to the resources they need while freeing up police resources for the emergencies that police are trained for.

We also need a stronger emphasis on widespread prevention, and work with federal and provincial governments to actually address the causes of crime, such as deep inequality, inadequate investments in social infrastructure, and insufficient housing.

What is the biggest achievement and/or failure of Burnaby council in the last four years? (100 words): The biggest achievement is the implementation of inclusionary zoning in the Rental Use Zoning Plan and Tenant Assistance Plan.

We are guaranteeing 20 per cent of new housing at affordable rates for the life of the building, while keeping rents the same for existing tenants.

Keeping people in their communities while building more affordable housing is a big challenge for cities, and Burnaby has achieved something that other cities are looking to copy. But even this plan has gaps.

We need to review the plan to ensure we haven’t unintentionally created loopholes or that it doesn’t impede the construction of much-needed housing.

How would you spend a leisurely 24 hours in Burnaby? (150 words maximum): I’d start my morning by taking my dog for a walk on the Confederation trail. On my way home, I’d have to choose from one of the many amazing cafes in the Heights for a pastry and a coffee.

Lunch plans with a friend bring me to Metrotown where we get sushi, bubble tea, Indian, Thai, or one of the many, many cuisines available – but first, the bike ride up the hill to get there!

Next stop is Tommy Douglas library to pick up a book. After biking home on the Deer Lake Parkway, I’d check on my vegetable garden and pop over to my neighbour’s house to say hello.

Then, to Wesburn Park (the park I grew up going to) for my dog’s evening walk. Once home, I’d head up to Burnaby Mountain with my partner to catch the sunset and maybe even some stars.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters? (100 words maximum): I have accomplished a lot in one year on council and have much more to do to address my priorities of housing, climate change and transportation.

I am proud of my work to increase affordable purpose-built rentals and co-ops, and establish strong renter protections. I will continue fighting to protect green space and am committed to equity and reconciliation in the work we do at the city.

As a younger voice on council, my perspectives and insights will help shape Burnaby’s future to be more resilient, diverse and inclusive – all the while building on the strong work of the BCA.

How can folks contact you? (Website, email, social media handles)
Twitter: @go4gu