Svend Robinson swears he didn’t plan this ahead of time. He’s showing me a letter he just received from a 75-year-old woman in Black Diamond, Alberta, urging him to do whatever he can to ensure that the federal NDP addresses climate change as the emergency it is. Enclosed with the letter is a handwritten cheque for $20.
“That for me is exciting,” says Robinson, who turned 67 this spring, “that there are people out there who feel that sense of urgency, and we are the political movement that’s got to respond to that.”
Robinson and I are sitting in a vacant storefront in north Burnaby. He gestures like a theatre director on an empty stage.
To our east, up on Burnaby Mountain, is the tank farm where the Trans Mountain pipeline just received the federal Liberal government’s approval to pump 890,000 barrels of bitumen each day from the oil sands.
To our north, down in Burrard Inlet, is where more than 30 oil tankers a month will carry their climate-destroying cargo out to the Pacific Ocean, assuming the project can surmount legal challenges from the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations.*
This cavernous room, a former bicycle shop on Hastings Street painted teal green and filled with empty desks and stacks of chairs, will over the following months transform into the campaign headquarters for Robinson’s return to politics. When it comes to climate change, he says, the upcoming federal election in October “is our last chance to turn things around.”
Like many things Robinson says, there are several layers to this statement.
The personal — after 25 years as one of the country’s most progressive, effective and media-savvy NDP MPs, including becoming the first openly gay federal politician to win an election in Canadian history, Robinson resigned in 2004 after stealing — and then returning — a $21,500 diamond ring from an auction, an event he attributed to unaddressed mental health issues. This is his first attempt at a political comeback since 2006, and if he doesn’t succeed, it could be his last.