In Burnaby North-Seymour, a giant on the hillside

Trans Mountain looms large over this election. Where do our local candidates stand?

“I’m really into politics,” my eight year old has declared.

I guess it’s not surprising, given that his mom works for Dogwood. But Leo’s newfound interest and his older brother Henry’s growing interest in joining other youth fighting for climate action is putting the stakes of this year’s federal election in stark relief.

We live on Burnaby Mountain, unceded territory of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Musqueum, Qayqayt, Stó:lō, Stz’uminus and Kwikwetlem peoples, within two kilometres of the Trans Mountain oil tank farm. For Leo’s entire life, the TMX expansion proposal has been a threat to our family’s health and safety, to our region’s air, land and water and to the future of our warming planet.

A personal betrayal

After spending so much time and effort along with my Indigenous and non-Indigenous neighbours using every tool available to us in our society to fight TMX, it felt like a personal betrayal when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the project in 2016 saying “If I thought that this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast, I would reject it.”

But in a federal election, voters don’t get to choose a prime minister. We vote for our local MP. So, Leo, Henry, Jeremy and I will be scrutinizing our candidates to decide who might best represent us and try to keep our neighbours safe in Burnaby-North Seymour.

Here’s a look at the candidates’ records over Leo’s lifetime. (For more on these candidates or the folks running in your riding visit our Vote Local website).

The ones opposed

Amita Kuttner is running for the Green Party. Climate action is one of their top priorities. Tragically, Amita lost their mother in a landslide on the North Shore in 2005, so they want to do whatever they can to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change on real people. They recently returned to the community after many years away earning a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, so Amita hasn’t really been involved in the TMX until now.

Svend Robinson is making a comeback run for the NDP. During my eleven years in Burnaby, Robinson has been known largely as a legend — the first openly gay MP in Canada, who was an outspoken advocate for environmental causes like stopping clearcut logging, as well as international human rights.

On the campaign trail, Robinson has taken a strong stand against the Liberal government’s buyout of Kinder Morgan and pushed even his own party to do more to fight climate change and uphold Indigenous rights. During much of the TMX fight, though, Robinson was out of the country working for Public Services International on issues of climate change, pensions and trade and with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.

The ones in favour

Conservative Heather Leung first made a name for herself in our community in 2011 as part of a group called Parents Voice which spoke out against policies to make schools safer and more inclusive of LGBTQ+ students. Since then Leung has run and lost campaigns for Burnaby school board (2014) and city council (2018) on her social conservative agenda. Her website suggests she supports the Trans Mountain expansion project, but she has been unreachable and largely invisible.

There is a candidate for the People’s Party of Canada. But I’m not going to legitimize a party that uses hate speech in its platform and harmful images of the Canadian government’s internment of Japanese Canadians in its campaign propaganda.

The one we’re still not sure

That leaves our current MP Terry Beech, running for re-election as a Liberal. I’ve watched Beech closely and met with him a few times in person since 2015. During the 2015 campaign, the Liberals promised to redo the review of the the pipeline expansion proposal, and overhaul the National Energy Board.

After they won government the Liberals allowed the NEB to proceed as planned, while creating a toothless public panel that took testimony from thousands of trusting people. Beech attended the panel events and presented a detailed report of his constituents’ concerns, but never took a clear stance personally on whether he supported or opposed the expansion proposal.

When Henry and I met with him in June 2016, Beech seemed genuinely blindsided by the Liberal government’s approval of the proposal. But aside from a single symbolic vote on the matter in Parliament, he did not take a stand to oppose his government’s position. In 2018 when the Liberals doubled down and bought the project with taxpayer money, Beech’s constituents called on him to take a stand against the $4.4 billion bailout. Again, he chose not to take a personal stance and stood behind his party.

A cynical distraction

There’s a lot more in Beech’s record, but I’ll highlight one thing that really sticks out for me. Remember that my family and our neighbours live with the fear that an accident, mistake or natural disaster at the Trans Mountain tank farm could put our lives in danger from fires, toxic fumes or oil spills — and that the expansion project would greatly compound those risks. Beech has heard these concerns ad nauseam from his constituents.

His response was to propose that the tank farm be moved to some mythical, empty “industrial area” to make way for affordable housing on the current tank site. This proposal was immediately criticized as essentially impossible by people who actually know something about land use policy, zoning, contaminated sites and housing development. But that hasn’t stopped Beech from repeating the idea and raising false hopes among my neighbours.

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