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Last Burnaby candidates' meeting sparks debate

Burnaby council candidates spoke on Indigenous rights, youth engagement and pedestrian safety.
The Simon Fraser University Student Society hosted a candidates debate in Burnaby, B.C., ahead of the Oct. 15 municipal election.

A political debate hosted at SFU had would-be city councillors share plans for Indigenous reconciliation, youth political engagement, pedestrian safety and the Burnaby Mountain tank farm.

Candidates from the NDP-aligned Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA) were present, as were five independent candidates.

No representatives from the Burnaby Green Party or One Burnaby attended the debate.

How to strengthen Indigenous rights

Independent candidate Martin Kendell said the Indigenous-owned Willingdon Lands development is a “good opportunity,” but said it’s missing a north-south SkyTrain line down Willingdon Avenue.

Scott Van Denham, independent, said city hall could look at a right of first refusal for Indigenous-based businesses.

Reah Arora of the BCA said her party will work on Call No. 57 of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to educate public servants on truth and reconciliation.

How to engage youth politically?

MichaelAngelo Robinhood, independent, said municipal elections are crucial to ensuring quality of life for all ages. He said young people need to be encouraged and suggested free transportation for youth.

BCA incumbent Coun. Alison Gu, who was elected to council at age 24, said youth are frequently used as checkboxes for politicians and not taken seriously.

“Anybody who says, ‘How do we get youth involved?’ Just listen to them,” Gu said.

“We also need to show that we’re serious (about) getting young people elected,” she said.

Independent candidate Deborah Skerry said one way to get young people engaged is to provide space and opportunity for participation.

She suggested the newspapers should engage youth before the election season and that youth should “write some essays (on elections) as that’s something they do well.”

Secure, affordable housing in Burnaby?

Van Denham suggested vacancy controls would keep rental prices affordable between tenants.

Kendell said Burnaby’s single-family areas need to be gently densified and suggested building multiplex complexes, co-ops and tiny homes.

Arora said the City of Burnaby is engaged in an intergenerational program teaming up international students with seniors.

Support of low or zero carbon emission mobility in the city?

Skerry said increasing frequencies on the 143 and said if transit doesn’t serve the people, it won’t be used.

Van Denham said he supports the Burnaby Mountain gondola but wants to see an environmental impact assessment.

He said SkyTrain is “too bloody expensive,” adding there needs to be a focus on bus rapid transit.

“You need to give people an incentive to make use of some other transport modes,” he said.

An audience member from the Stop the Burnaby Mountain Gondola group later asked Gu why she changed her stance on the gondola, after Gu ran for election in 2021 promising to oppose the project but now is in support.

Gu said she’s not allowed to share details from the closed council meeting where the gondola was discussed and noted the transparency of closed meetings is an issue.

She said since council endorsed the gondola in January, she has pressed TransLink for various safety reports, but the reports are not yet allowed to be public. She said she TransLink will likely release more information shortly.

Improving pedestrian safety and accessibility for students?

Robinhood said Burnaby should have bike lanes and e-bike charging stations for students.

“We need to change our mentality of getting back on the road,” Robinhood said. “If I’m elected, I will be focused on e-bikes and bicycle safety.”

Gu said biking up Burnaby Mountain is unsafe and noted Gaglardi Way as a problem. She said when buses breakdown, students must walk up the Gaglardi, which doesn’t have a sidewalk.

She said Gaglardi is in phase 1 of a program to establish a cycling lane and sidewalk, but she wants to accelerate the program.

Van Denham said a physical barrier is needed to separate vehicles from pedestrians.

Gulam Firdos, independent, agreed bike lanes are important and should be protected because approaching SFU from downtown is unsafe.

He suggested that every half a kilometre there should be a station where a bike can wait, so the journey to SFU can be a “fun time.”

Kendell said the number 1 thing to do for cycling is to create an efficient network of separated bike lanes. He said he wants to slow non-major routes to 30 kilometres an hour.

Burnaby Mountain tank farm safety

Van Denham said the tank farm is a risk in itself, saying the specialized equipment needed to fight the kind of fire would costs tens of millions of dollars and said it should be the federal government’s responsibility.

Gu added that the only kind of material that could put out that type of wildfire is an extremely toxic material that would permanently damage the environment.

She said the “archaically built” tanks are a “ticking time bomb waiting to happen.”

Kendell said it’s the access for firefighters is unacceptable for workers and for those living and working on Burnaby Mountain.

Skerry noted council is working towards building a temporary fire hall on Burnaby Mountain.

Student voices

SFSS vice-president external Eshana Baran said studies have shown declining rates of student involvement in municipal elections compared to provincial and federal elections.

She told the NOW municipal elections greatly affect students.

“Housing, transportation, climate justice – the people who we are most connected with are the people at the municipal level,” Baran said. “That’s really where we can personally start going and talking about things, and that's where we need support.”

Election day is Oct. 15.

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