Svend Robinson: Why I'm running
Full text of Svend Robinson's announcement of his candidacy:
Thank you for coming this morning to this beautiful place across the street from the house I lived in as a boy in Burnaby several decades ago, and across the inlet from the Seymour part of the Burnaby North-Seymour riding.
I am here to announce that I will be running in the upcoming federal election as the New Democrat candidate in this riding, the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour. I grew up here in north Burnaby, had a Province paper route here on the Hill, graduated from Burnaby North, and for over twenty five years had the honour of representing Burnaby in Parliament. During that time I worked tirelessly on behalf of my constituents, and I was proud to be recognized by them, and by the media, as ‘the best constituency representative in Ottawa’….in the words of respected former Vancouver SUN Ottawa reporter Peter O’Neil.
As I knocked on hundreds of doors in Burnaby and Seymour, even though it has been fifteen years since I served in Parliament, many people welcomed me back home with memories of my service to them and to the community, and of my strong stands for human rights, the environment, and global justice. They remembered my long advocacy for LGBT issues, speaking out for the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment at Haida Gwaii and Clayoquot Sound, and with the Penan in Sarawak, my support for the courageous efforts of my friend Sue Rodriguez for the right to die with dignity, fighting anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and racism, and my deep commitment to human rights in China, Taiwan and Tibet, in Palestine, in India, in Iraq and beyond. They spoke of my advocacy for better pensions and respect for seniors in our community, my engagement with students and young people, including donating my MP pay increases to scholarships for students, my work for small businesses in the community that led to being named an honourary member of the Burnaby Chamber of Commerce, and always being there to support my constituents. That’s why I was the longest serving MP in Burnaby’s history, serving for more than a quarter of a century. It was an incredible privilege.
So why am I now coming back into public life, why subject myself to the slings and arrows of social media and politics, and run in this election? For the past decade, I had the incredible opportunity to serve in a senior diplomatic post with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria in Geneva, working around the world to help prevent illness, save lives, promote access to medicines, and speak out for gender equality and human rights. I retired from The Global Fund in 2017, and recently I moved back home to Burnaby. Many people, both in the NDP and others, encouraged me to run for office in my old turf of Burnaby North. Of course the riding also includes the Seymour area of North Vancouver, traditionally more challenging for the NDP but we have won there in the past both federally and provincially, and recently North Vancouver elected the first New Democrat MLA in many years, the terrific Bowinn Ma. Both of the provincial ridings in Burnaby North are held by excellent New Democrat MLAs, Janet Routledge and Katrina Chen.
The NDP ran a strong second in the 2015 federal election, losing to a candidate who promised that Liberals would fight Kinder Morgan and end the first past the post electoral system. Both promises, of course, were betrayed.
I am running for election to represent the people of Burnaby North-Seymour for two main reasons: two profound threats to our communities, climate change and inequality, in particular the crisis in housing affordability.
This is why I am running in this election: The recent report of the IPCC. This group of respected global climate scientists tells us that we have twelve years only to prevent catastrophic impacts of global warming on our planet. It tells us we must reduce global carbon emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030. Twelve years. This Liberal government has shamefully failed to respond to this alarm, and is betraying the futures of our children and our planet. As the Federal Court of Appeal recently ruled, this Liberal government showed contempt for the rights of indigenous peoples and the safety of our precious coastal waters and resident orca population. Liberals used the Conservative process, and the Liberal MP for this riding bragged about that process. We have already felt deeply the impact of climate change in this community with the smoke from forest fires, impact on health and environment.
I am running to put climate change, global warming, at the top of our political agenda, to demand that we mobilize the same way nationally that we mobilized to fight a war, only this time it is a war to save our planet, a war with that does not take lives, but saves lives, a war for our children’s future. That means radical changes, transitioning rapidly away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, no new oil and gas infrastructure, a massive transition to green energy and green jobs, electric vehicles, major public transit and high speed rail infrastructure, energy retrofitting, cleaning up the terrible waste left behind by oil and gas extraction, and ensuring that all energy workers and their unions are at the heart of this transition and treated with respect and dignity. A Green New Deal, some are calling it. And it means that we listen to and respect the voices of indigenous leaders, both hereditary chiefs and elected councillors, including in this riding the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations, and honour the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This next election is our last chance to turn this around, to elect enough MPs who will put climate change at the top of our country’s priorities. The last thing we need is another ineffective Liberal or Conservative voice from Burnaby North-Seymour.
I am deeply honoured that my campaign in this riding has the support of environmental icon David Suzuki, who will be speaking at my nominating meeting this coming Saturday, along with our national leader Jagmeet Singh.
And the second main reason I am running in this election is because we face another crisis in this community, in Burnaby and in Seymour, and that is the crisis in access to affordable, decent housing. My nephew Jason, who grew up in Burnaby, a journeyman electrician, his wife Sarah, and their three kids can not live in this community on their combined incomes. That is an outrage, and that is the reality faced by too many people and families in this riding every day. This house that I lived in as a boy, we rented. It was built in 1932, and is rented now. It was just assessed at over $2.3 million dollars.. But people in houses like this, and in apartments in Burnaby and Seymour, face demovictions. Nowhere to go. We must take a totally new approach to housing, as a fundamental human right, and recognize that the market has failed. It is good at building luxury condos for offshore speculators, but how many units of affordable rental housing, of seniors housing, of student housing, of coop housing, have been built in Burnaby or Seymour in the 25 years since the Liberals killed new social housing? Zero. None. I am running to call for a massive programme of non-profit, non-market housing construction, energy efficient and affordable for people like my nephew and his family. Liberals and Conservatives just do not get the gravity of this housing crisis. It is by far the biggest issue that is raised with me on the doorsteps in Burnaby and Seymour.
So those are the main reasons I am running in this election. Two huge crises. And to fight them we need to transform our economic system, to put people and the environment before profits. A fair tax system, transferring military expenditures to fight the real enemies of climate change, inequality, racism, and the threat of nuclear war, and long overdue justice for indigenous peoples.
I am confident that the people of Burnaby North-Seymour support these priorities, and I look forward to representing them once again with dedication and hard work after the next election.
Finally, I want to say a word about what journalist Mike Smyth yesterday called the “ring thing”. Fifteen years ago I made a terrible mistake. I stole a ring. I will regret that for the rest of my life, even though both the prosecutor and the judge accepted that I was struggling with mental illness at the time. I took full responsibility for my actions, gave up the job I loved, did community service with Burnaby Wildlife Rescue, and got the professional therapy and medication I needed to get back on my feet. I spoke out in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association on the stigma and discrimination facing millions of Canadians living with mental health challenges. And I went on to do international humanitarian work for the last decade. I am not the only elected person who has had a run-in with the law, as we know very well here in BC, from a former Premier to a respected former MLA and MP Frank Howard, who served with distinction after a record of armed robbery. As he said afterwards “How many times does one have to pay for a stupid mistake?”
I am asking the people of Burnaby North-Seymour, and Canadians, to judge me, not on the basis of one serious mistake 15 years ago for which I paid the price, but for my lifetime of public service to my community, to my country, and for the past decade, globally. That is who Svend Robinson is…that is who I am.