Mayor accuses Burnaby fire department of being too 'white'

The racial makeup of the Burnaby fire department sparked a tense exchange between bitter rivals Mayor Derek Corrigan and mayoral candidate Mike Hurley Saturday during the only real debate that will be held during the local election campaign.

Corrigan accused the department of being “almost all white men” and actively eliminating some diverse candidates over the years during the hiring process. He wants to add more diversity to the fire department.

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Hurley, a retired firefighter whose main backer is the IAFF firefighters union, said Corrigan’s accusation wasn’t true, adding that the mayor was a key part of the hiring process.

The exchange came at a time when the IAFF released an attack ad bringing up Corrigan’s past use of city golf courses for free.

Beyond that exchange, Corrigan stood on his record but took heat for it as well with the topic of demovictions and public safety.

Meanwhile, Hurley, a political newcomer, was called an “opportunist” for only getting interested in issues during the election.

Corrigan of the Burnaby Citizens Association and Hurley, also sparred on issues ranging from housing, transportation, public facilities and safety, at a bilingual forum in Crystal Mall on Saturday just two weeks before voters go to the polls in the municipal election. Questions and answers were translated into Mandarin – according to 2016 census data, there are 32,295 Mandarin speakers in Burnaby.

Responding to the first question at the debate between the two mayoral candidates, Hurley said the city has to build more buildings for people with moderate incomes, citing the average income in the Metrotown area as $47,500.

“I’ve called for a moratorium when I become mayor and that will protect those people in that housing until we can come up with real solutions for real people,” Hurley said to a standing-room only crowd at the mall in Metrotown, wondering why the focus was on “luxury condos.”

With 35,000 to 40,000 people are moving to Metro Vancouver every year, Corrigan said the city needs to find places for them to live.

“The way that we have accommodated them is to increase the density around our SkyTrain stations so that more people will take transit,” Corrigan said. “That results in some people having to leave older buildings that have been there for 50 or 60 years.”

But this has allowed the city to create a special housing fund, Corrigan added, with $100 million for social housing.

Hurley claimed that Corrigan’s record on public safety was poor, citing concerns on Cariboo Road and in Central Park where bike patrols, previously cancelled, were “magically” brought back. He said people have been bringing bear spray into the park because they’re scared.

“Crime has been going down year after year after year,” Corrigan countered. “People consider this to be one of the safest places to live.”

Hurley also criticized Corrigan and the current council of promising amenities and not delivering, like an Olympic-sized pool to replace C.G. Brown pool as well as ice rinks, prompting Corrigan to defend his record with the construction of Edmonds Community Centre and prioritizing arenas at Byrne Creek before refurbishing C.G. Brown.

Transportation was brought up a few times, and Hurley pointed out the focus tends to be on public transit while tradespeople and parents with hockey bags also need to get around.

“The focus on transportation here seems to be on SkyTrain and to buses and other public transit like that with no thought all all given… to the flow of traffic through our city,” Hurley said, adding it’s “almost impossible” to get around. He suggested more left-hand and right-hand turn signals to help people get around better.

“There is no magic solution to congestion,” Corrigan said. “The reality is as the population increase we’re seeing more and more cars coming through our community. That’s why we’ve prioritized the SkyTrain system, transit and buses in our community.”

When an audience member pointed out that Burnaby has a lot of money in the bank and asked Hurley how he would spend it, Hurley answered that facilities in the city are falling behind in Burnaby and not keeping up with growth, pointing to Bonser Recreation Centre, which he said is over-crowded, as well as the lack of services in North Burnaby.

“The public expects services and that’s why we pay taxes and we need to start providing the services right now, not waiting until infinity to get them done,” Hurley said.

Corrigan praised the “good planning” that will result in recreation facilities at Lougheed Mall, Brentwood and Confederation Park, saying the money is there so Burnaby will be strong in the future.

“We have money in the bank to make sure we can do it and that’s because we’ve done good planning,” Corrigan said. “But it takes time to build structures like that because we go through community consultation and we’re making sure what we build is what our community need and wants.”

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