Friday, December 17, 2010

Bill Siksay’s retirement puts Burnaby-Douglas in play

News broke last night that Bill Siksay, the three-term New Democratic Party MP for the riding of Burnaby-Douglas in the Vancouver area, will not be running again in the next election.

After a quarter of a century in politics, Bill Siksay has decided to hang up his hat.

"It's been 25 years for me," he said. "It just feels like time to make a change."

Siksay, the MP for Burnaby-Douglas made the announcement he was leaving politics today - Dec. 16.

Siksay is the NDP critic for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual (GLBTT) issues. He will stay on till the next election, which could be as early as next spring.

I spent a little time in Burnaby-Douglas in the last election, and I can say Siksay is definitely a classy guy, respected in the community and by his political opponents. He’s also a solid constituency guy, and that’s one of the reasons for his success; he handled constituency issues for his predecessor, former NDP MP Svend Robinson. He's good people, and the level of debate in Ottawa will be lesser without him.

While Burnaby has traditionally been strong NDP territory at all levels of government, the demographics of the area are shifting. Once a major union city, the resource industry in the area isn’t what it once was. As of the 2006 census, 71,000 of the riding’s 112,000 residents were immigrants. 57,000 were a visible minority, including 33,000 Chinese.

It’s a riding that falls nicely into the ethnic outreach campaign that Jason Kenney is leading for the Conservatives, and they very nearly swung the riding in 2008. The Conservatives ran Ronald Leung, a candidate with a very high profile in the local Chinese community as the host of a radio call-in show on Fairchild Radio who nearly won a seat on Vancouver City Council a few years earlier (he also used to work for Kenney in the minister's regional office). Despite running the typical Conservative peak-a-boo campaign – skipping all candidates meetings and hiding from most media – Leung grew the Conservative vote by nearly 4000 votes and finished just 800 votes behind Siksay.

Siksay’s departure will certainly put this riding in play – his personal popularity was a strong contributor to his performance – and with the Conservatives reportedly running Leung again, the riding would appear ripe for a Conservative pick-up. It will be interesting to see who the NDP nominate to replace Siksay.

It’s far from a slam-dunk, however. The Liberal support in the riding could well be the wildcard here. Bill Cunningham ran in the last three elections for the Liberals, and after running tightly with Siksay in 2004 and 2006 (934 and 1244 votes) the Liberal vote collapsed in 2008, dropping nearly 7000 votes. Many Liberal voters simply stayed home, and many others moved to Leung. Historically, though, the Liberal base here is stronger than the 2008 numbers show.

The Liberals have already nominated Ken Low as their candidate in Burnaby-Douglas, and he could make it interesting. Low ran for the Liberals in Vancouver-East in 2008, finishing a distant (but respectable, all things considered) second to the mighty Libby Davies. Low is a civil engineer who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong. He’s very active in the community, and while he doesn’t have Leung’s profile he will give him a strong race. The Liberal vote in this riding in 2008 was hurt by several factors: green shift, Stephane Dion’s unpopularity, and Leung’s appeal to the Chinese community. It will be a much different race next time.

While we’ll wait to see who the NDP run, at this point I’d say it’s Leung’s race to lose. He’s not without his baggage, however. There’s a reason the Conservatives ran a peak-a-boo campaign in 2008 (after the campaign, he blamed the media for his narrow loss). He has a history of strident opposition to same-sex marriage. That's a popular opinion with some the riding, but it's also divisive: Siksay was Canada's first MP to win election as an openly-gay candidate. When Leung was a spokesperson for Kenney, then Conservative Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, Leung said that multiculturalism is not part of the Canadian identity. And the former pastor of his ultra-conservative church, Titus Cheung, said multiculturalism is the precursor for the anti-Christ.

Should be a riding to watch in the next election, for sure.

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CK said...

Wow! Talk about your extremes! From having an openly gay MP from the NDP to potentially having a staunch homophobic member from the Christian far right representing the riding.

I guess that's 2 in BC for the Harpercons to gain. If memory also serves, Keith Martin won his riding the last time by only 68 votes to the con (if I remember name correctly) Troy De Souza. From what I gather, De Souza will be running again in Esquimalt Juan deFuca?


Chuk said...

I work in the riding, and I was just wondering about this: Siksay was Canada's first MP to win election as an openly-gay candidate.

What about his predecessor, Svend Robinson? Did he not count as openly-gay enough or something? (Or is it that he didn't come out until after the first time he was elected?)

Jeff said...

Chuk, my understanding is that Svend didn't come out publicly until after his first election. We've had (and have) several openly gay MPs, but Bill was the first to run (and win) as an openly-gay candidate.

Chuk said...

Right. So he was re-elected while openly-gay, but not first elected.

(Not that that's all your article is about. I was kind of surprised to see you writing about the riding I work in (and used to live in, voted for Svend in '97 I think it was -- definitely the best candidate that year)).