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Get to know Burnaby council candidates: Tara Shushtarian

“We need to improve the reliability of transit by working with city planning to see where we can implement dedicated bus lanes for faster transit movement.”
Tara ShushtarianGreen
Tara Shushtarian, Burnaby Green Party, is running for Burnaby city council in the upcoming October election.

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: Tara Shushtarian

Current occupation: Climate / social justice activist volunteer

Short biography (50 words maximum): An M.A. from the University of Jawaharlal Nehru, Delhi, I have worn many hats in my checkered career as a mortgage consultant, scriptwriter/copywriter, and a teacher.

Currently, I am on the Burnaby city council environment committee, the West Coast Climate Action Network board, and the Fair Vote Canada board.

Why are you running for city council? (150 words maximum): We are facing an increasing housing crisis and we are in a climate emergency. I am running to enact progressive policies on key issues like affordable housing, accessible, reliable, and affordable transit, and adequate child-care facilities. 

I will prioritize active transportation by accelerating our sidewalk and pedestrian infrastructure and creating more separated bike lanes and safe cycling corridors.

I envision creating true, interconnected urban villages in Burnaby where all your housing needs and amenities like schools, childcare, grocers, clinics, and restaurants are all within a 15-minute radius of walking, biking or transit. I also believe in accentuating Indigenous rights, language and culture revitalization.

I want stronger protection of our green spaces and waterways, as well as expansion of our tree canopy to keep Burnaby green and to further mitigate climatic heat events. I will enact further protection of our biodiversity and food security by creating more community and pollinator gardens.

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

Housing: I would propose the development of more affordable purpose-built rental units. Zone for more of the "missing middle" infill housing like townhomes, co-ops, laneway homes, and prefabricated homes to accommodate the housing needs of young families, seniors, youth, and the underhoused. And ensure that upzoning and land lift goes into more affordable housing and more below-market rentals. 

Climate change: Housing and city planning are at the forefront of mitigating the climate crisis.

Interconnected compact communities where you access housing, childcare, healthcare, and other amenities within a 15-minute radius of walking, biking, or transit are crucial. Accelerating our walking and cycling infrastructure by 30 kilometres and implementing safe, separated cycling corridors is important.

We need to improve the reliability of transit by working with city planning to see where we can implement dedicated bus lanes for faster transit movement. With TransLink, find a way to adopt a subsidised bus pass for low-income people.

We need to reduce building emissions that contribute to greenhouse gas pollution.

I am committed to furthering retrofitting programs for better insulation of buildings and creating incentive programs for low-carbon energy systems like heat pumps for all households.

Child care: Being a staunch advocate for the $10 childcare program, I would commit to zoning childcare spaces in family neighbourhoods and new tower developments, like we ensure parks and playground space.

I would support a competitive median wage for child caregivers that would greatly enhance the retention of these high in demand professionals in non-profit child-care centres. 

What is your housing situation? Are you a homeowner, renter or something else (describe)? Do you rent property to others? (50 words maximum): I co-own our townhome on Forest Grove Drive with my husband. We both also own a one-bedroom rental property on Erickson Drive, which we rent out below market at $1,150 as investment for our children.

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): Within the current neighbourhoods in North and South Burnaby, I would want to see gentle densification with more emphasis on townhomes, co-ops, and small storey apartments rather than a concentration of more tall towers/ highrises. 

This should be done through public engagement and consultation for the Official Community Plan. We would need to densify along transit hubs and arterial roads.

Look for untapped opportunities for development and employment if the interurban railway line is revived as a transit source. We need to continue to grow the number of interconnected urban villages and suburban multi-family areas through an efficient, reliable and affordable transit system.

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): Being a social justice activist and a women’s rights advocate, this would seem a panacea for social housing.

However, a part of governance is public consultation and due process. I would be more comfortable if there was a discussion with the communities involved in those neighbourhoods, informing them of an upcoming rezoning.

Today, social housing is an essential need. Tomorrow, with our aging population and changing demographics there will be a need for a non-profit long term care facility or culturally appropriate nursing home.

We need to have a streamlined zoning process that benefits all. Although the zoning itself is not a delayed process, we have to expedite with due diligence structural building permits and electrical permits. This ensures not only safety, but harmony in the community.

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): The city has made strides in preserving our urban forests and enhanced the municipality’s tree canopy for mitigating climate heat events.

I would continue to preserve pockets of urban forests and continue to grow our tree coverage, especially along walkways and bikeways to provide essential shade and lessen the heat of the island effect from buildings and road surfaces. I would encourage the creation of water bodies such as ponds with their own rain harvesting systems.

This would not only be aesthetically pleasing but provide another cooling source.

I would increase the number of cooling centres, along with the vital information they provide on how to manage heat.

Finally, we can mitigate climate change if we slow down our consumption of fossil fuels. I will work towards incentivizing heat pumps for all households so that they can minimize their energy costs and remain cool and comfortable in their homes.

Is crime a concern for you, and how do you hope to address it? (150 words maximum): With the recent spate of gang-related violence in Burnaby, the public is uneasy.

Metro Vancouver is more peaceful than most metropolitans. However, where we can identify gang-related activity, perhaps that’s where police patrolling needs to increase.

For petty crime or public nuisance complaints, I would prefer the RCMP to come on cycles, not be so intimidating, and handle the situation. I firmly believe wellness checks for people with addictions and mental health issues should only be done by a social worker and a healthcare worker.

What is alarming is the rise in racism and Islamophobia. Certain members of our community feel threatened, and we need to do better as a society.

Have more community events like block parties or community barbecues or a simple pancake breakfast after a community gardening event. Nothing like making that human connection to see we are not that different after all.  

What is the biggest achievement and/or failure of Burnaby council in the last four years? (100 words): The biggest achievement has been Burnaby’s Tenant Assistance Policy, touted as the best in Canada.

It has multiple policy levers such as preserving rental tenure zoning, having density bonuses, vacancy control and inclusionary housing working under one overarching policy. This has further encouraged tenancy protection for demovictions and renovictions.

Trish Garner, the then policy director of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, and myself presented to council on a municipal adoption of the poverty reduction plan which was unanimously adopted by council.

There needs to be an increase in services for the houseless and construction of modular homes.

How would you spend a leisurely 24 hours in Burnaby? (150 words maximum): Having two beautiful rescue dogs that need to be walked, I would take this opportunity of a leisurely day to make it a me day. Not pressed for time, I would trek up through forest pathways to Discovery Park, enjoy the vistas of the Burrard Inlet whilst letting Pappy and Sphinx leave their scents on the trail.

Connect to the trail leading to SFU UniverCity plaza, grab a Timmy’s for breakfast. Meet a friend for lunch. Choose between a Szechuan or an Indian restaurant on Kingsway and then burn off the extra calories by visiting the mecca of shopping in Metrotown.

After window-shopping, but primarily people-watching, head towards Shadbolt Centre to catch a musical performance or play with my adult children. Just before the play, sit out with a coffee overlooking Deer Lake. Finally, head home and curl up in bed like a cat who’s licked the cream.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell voters? (100 words maximum): To quote Bayard Rustin, “We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.” This affirms what I have been throughout my life from my activism in university, to the myriad hats I’ve worn throughout my career.

If elected, I will bring years of collaboration with various organizations with different perspectives to decision making. As a South Asian woman, I will help create inclusivity by being at the table and having a voice.

I am committed to advocating progressive policies while always keeping in mind the words of Inuk author and activist Siila Watt-Cloutier, “at the speed of empathy.” 

How can folks contact you? (Website, email, social media handles)

Twitter: @TaraShushtarian

Facebook: Tara Shushtarian for Burnaby City Council