As the occupation of 5025 Imperial St. by housing activists stretches into its second week, a growing chorus of criticism is being levelled at elected officials in Burnaby for not speaking out on the issue of demovictions.
The main target of condemnation from groups supporting the protest are the provincial and federal New Democrats in Burnaby, who critics have suggested are unwilling to speak out against the mayor and council because of their close ties to the party.
The NOW reached out to some of the elected NDP members in Burnaby to ask them about demovictions and the city’s handling of the issue.
Burnaby-Deer Lake MLA Kathy Corrigan said she wasn’t going to discuss what the city is doing and told the NOW to speak to Mayor Derek Corrigan.
“I’m not going to get into that and I’m sure you can understand why,” she said.
However, the MLA – who is married to the mayor – was willing to discuss the issue of demovictions, arguing the provincial and federal governments have done a “dismal job” building affordable and social housing over decades.
“That’s the root of the problem,” Corrigan said, adding there is now a deficit of thousands of units and no place for people to go.
She also noted the City of Burnaby asked the province for the ability to zone for rental housing but was turned down.
As for the occupation on Imperial Street, Corrigan said she knows there are people who are frustrated, but the courts have said it’s an illegal occupation.
“I don’t support people breaking the law, so I understand the frustration, but the courts have spoken on that and said ‘you can’t stay there,’” she said.
The retiring MLA also has no plans to visit the site at the edge of her riding.
“It’s a privately owned piece of land. The developer is dealing with it through the courts, and I don’t think it would be helpful in any way for me to go and be a part of that, and I won’t,” she said.
Kennedy Stewart, the NDP MP for the riding, has visited the protest on Imperial but was also reluctant to criticize city council.
“I don’t think what’s happening with people in Burnaby is right, but I can’t say the mayor and council are the cause of this,” he said. “I really can’t because if we had a proper affordable housing strategy, there would be a transition. People would be able to be transitioned. What you’re seeing in Burnaby right now is the failed federal housing policy.”
He suggested older housing needs to be replaced, but what’s missing is a transition plan for people, adding municipalities can’t do it without federal and provincial partners.
The MP said he talks to the mayor and council but noted his jurisdiction and job is to go to Ottawa to push the government to invest in more social housing.
But when asked if he’s comfortable with the way the city has handled the issue, Stewart said he’s uncomfortable with the situation “entirely.”
“I don’t think any of us are doing enough,” he said. “I would say all three levels of government could do much better for these folks on Imperial.”
He also took a soft tone regarding the people occupying the building, arguing the protesters are doing a service to the entire community by bringing attention to the real problem of affordable housing.
Meanwhile, the Burnaby city councillor who’s looking to take over Corrigan’s MLA seat for the NDP in the next provincial election repeated similar arguments made by the mayor and other politicians.
Anne Kang, the NDP candidate for Burnaby-Deer Lake, said it’s not the city’s jurisdiction to create social housing, adding the different levels of government need to work together to come up with a solution.
She also argued the city can’t stop demolitions, suggesting the older buildings would still be torn down and replaced with new three- or four-storey apartments.
Kang noted an expected influx of people into the region, adding that, with the density, the city is hoping to accommodate everyone who wants to live in the Lower Mainland.
When asked whether she supports the proposed Metrotown plan, which critics have slammed for potentially leading to the demolition of 3,000 units in the area, Kang said she does, but she added people need to use the public process and public hearings to speak out.
“I don’t encourage people to break the law, to break into buildings, to occupy someone else’s building,” she said. “That’s not what I’m encouraging. The public process is there. I’m really encouraging them to use that process.”
But when also asked whether the city is just rubber stamping rezoning applications, which critics have suggested, Kang said it’s not the case, noting recently a split vote on council over a couple of development projects.