Candidate finds her voice in election

Sylvia Gung is a tiny woman, not much more than five-feet tall, with black hair pulled back in a bun and straight bangs framing a round face. She wrings her fingers as she talks, her hands rough and dry from the newspapers she delivers to supplement her disability income.

Gung's life story and the reason she's running for mayor are closely intertwined.

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Now 58, Gung moved to Canada when she was 27 to earn money to send back to her family in Korea, a family with not a lot of love for daughters.

"There were a lot of problems in my father's family," she says. "I could help financially from work outside."

When Gung moved to Canada, she cried for her first year and developed a kind of self-imposed silence stemming from what she describes only as an "emotional disability." She couldn't speak, and it wasn't just the language barrier.

Gung worked days and went to school at night. It took her five years to utter the words, yes and no in English. She slowly began to find her voice, but still didn't say much, and even today she seems to struggle to speak publicly. But none of this is standing in the way of her mayoral bid.

Gung is an avid letter writer, often appearing in the same papers she delivers - the Burnaby NOW and the Newsleader. She also writes to the city, the mayor, members of Parliament, MLAs, Ottawa, the distribution department of the Burnaby NOW even. She writes on news, politics, and how to improve the newspaper delivery system for youth.

As a mother of two grown boys, 19 and 20, she volunteered at New Westminster's Glenbrook Middle School when they were young.

She moved to Burnaby four years ago and has been dissatisfied with the local political scene and the strong connection to the New Democratic Party.

"There are some things I didn't think were right, for example, homelessness," she says.

She also took issue with the proposed detention centre planned for Burnaby's Willingdon area two years ago. The prison plan, backed by the Liberals, outraged local people, and Liberal MLA John Nuraney lost his seat, now held by the mayor's wife Kathy Corrigan, something Gung thinks was orchestrated by the mayor.

"He used it to elect his wife as an MLA," she says. "The whole thing appeared to me as partisanship playing a lot in his doings."

Gung also doesn't like the way city councillors parrot the mayor in council meetings.

"It didn't feel right," she says. "I think it's unbearable actually."

On top of that, the school board's policy on gender identity and sexual orientation pushed her even further to run for mayor. If there was one non-NDP person on school board, the policy wouldn't have passed so easily, she says.

Policy 5.45 was designed to protect staff and students from homophobic bullying, but Gung feels it's threatening the moral fabric of society. Gung says she doesn't have a problem supporting gay people's right to live their lives the way they want, but there's a price. Morals, she says, are very important for society, and in a way, we are killing them while damaging the frame of society.

"If the frame is disturbed, then society is not sustainable anymore," Gung says. "For every freedom, there's a responsibility, the responsibility to keep the frame of society sustainable."

If elected, Gung would do things differently.

"The city has to work on improving education, family life, improving communication with their children," she says.

Partisanship, homelessness, safety and security of society and family are the things she wants to focus on.

"I'm very afraid for the safety of society," she says, adding young people are going out, ignoring what their parents tell them, and becoming neurotic.

Gung sees the mayor's job as an opportunity to right everything she sees wrong in society.

"I believe I was raised by God. This is the way he's showing me to go," she says. "I'm not at all confident, but I have no choice. I have to run. Things are getting too bad. - This is frightening for me, this experience to attack the mayor."

In a way, Gung's mayoral bid is very much driven by ghosts in her own family.

"All my life, I've seen emergencies in the family," she says. "I want to help other families. There are other children (suffering like I did.)"

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