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Burnaby teacher leading charge to oust MLA Richard Lee

Burnaby-North MLA Richard Lee was walking by Brentwood mall Wednesday, when he noticed a small group of people handing out pamphlets.

Burnaby-North MLA Richard Lee was walking by Brentwood mall Wednesday, when he noticed a small group of people handing out pamphlets.

Lee approached them and took a leaflet, and he was surprised to learn the literature was promoting a recall campaign specifically targeting him.

"More than a month ago, I heard there are pamphlets going around my office in the residential area, and I know there's some action being taken already, but I haven't met them," said the Liberal MLA. "By chance yesterday, I ran into some of the volunteering."

The volunteers were from B.C. Citizens for Recall, a grassroots group pushing for recall campaigns against Lee and Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton, also a Liberal. 

"I respect the process and the mechanism, so the citizens, they have the right to do that," Lee said.

As the last Liberal politician in an NDP-run town, Lee may seem like an obvious target for the left, but Jennifer Heighton, the main organizer behind the campaign insists it's not about party politics.

"To try and say there's some kind of partisan connection at all, there isn't," she told the NOW. "The reason why (Lee) was chosen is he's not representing people in his riding, and how we know that is we've been going door to door talking to citizens."

Heighton is a Coquitlam resident and an elementary teacher in Burnaby. She's also a representative with the Burnaby Teachers' Association, the local union branch of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, a longtime foe of the Liberal government.

Heighton would not name names or reveal the number of people involved in her group, but she told the NOW there was no connection with the local teachers' association. According to Heighton, B.C. Citizens for Recall members include NDP and Green activists, as well as people with no party affiliations.

"I am a Burnaby teacher; I have had experience with (Lee) in the past. I've been to a couple of meetings and asked questions and not been happy with the answers. I've protested outside of his office many times, and not had any concrete results," she said.

According to Heighton, the main complaints about Lee are that he doesn't do enough, and that he's invisible.

In order to successfully recall Lee, Heighton has to drum up enough volunteers, interest and awareness about the campaign, so they can collect enough signatures if Elections B.C. approves the campaign. Right now, she's still in the initial grassroots organizing stages and doesn't know when she will apply to Elections B.C. for approval.

If Lee were recalled, there would be a by-election, and there's nothing stopping him from running again.

Lee has been MLA in Burnaby North for 14 years. He was working as a programmer analyst at TRIUMF, UBC's particle and nuclear physics lab, before he was voted in during the Liberal landslide of 2001. Lee's held onto his seat by several hundred votes, but in 2005 it was as close as 65.

Still, all the recall talk doesn't seem to faze him. 

"We have the support in the last election," he said. "We just had an election and another election is two years away, so it will take away energy and time for me, of course. I try my best to address all the constituents' concerns."

Lee also said his office is always open for constituents to come by and express their concerns.

"The issues, of course, I cannot solve everything. I'm sure some of the policies in the Liberal government, they don't like it, but overall people support our government," he said. 


How does recall work?

  • B.C. is the only province where people can petition to remove an MLA between elections.
  • Recall rules are covered by the Recall and Initiative Act, which came into effect in 1995. Since then, Elections B.C. has approved 24 recall petitions, but only five made it to the signature stage. Four failed due to lack of valid signatures, and in the fifth campaign, there were more than enough signatures, but the MLA in question resigned.
  • The voter must apply to Elections B.C. for approval to go ahead with a recall campaign. If Elections B.C. approves it, there is a 60-day period to collect signatures from more than 40 per cent of eligible voters in the riding.
  • If an MLA is successfully booted out of office, a by-election would follow. The recalled MLA can also run again in the by-election.