Byelection Battle: Meet Candidates Vying for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain

A tight race, with Green's Keithley insisting he's got a shot: 'People always vote for shitheads.'

By Andrew MacLeod 20 Jan 2016 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Within the past week both Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader John Horgan have made visits to Coquitlam, where one of two byelections is underway, signalling that the parties see the contest as tight.

On Friday, Clark was in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, visiting a seniors' residence and businesses with BC Liberal candidate Joan Isaacs. The visit followed recent government transit and jobs plan announcements in the area.

Horgan was there on Monday with NDP candidate Jodie Wickens talking about the underfunding of Coquitlam schools. A week earlier, he visited to highlight the high amount families are paying for medical services premiums, ICBC and BC Hydro.

Meanwhile the BC Green Party candidate, punk band D.O.A. singer and guitarist Joe Keithley, insists he shouldn't be counted out ahead of the Feb. 2 vote. "It's a three-way split," he said. Libertarian Paul Geddes is also running.

While the site of the other byelection, Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, has long been an NDP stronghold, past results in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain have been closer, suggesting the byelection should be competitive.

In the 2013 general election, the winning margin for the BC Liberals over the NDP was within 2,500 votes, with the Green and Conservative candidates trailing far behind. The winner in that contest, Douglas Horne, stepped down in August to run as a Conservative in the federal election, a campaign he lost.

Transit and sharing economy

That Isaacs is a member of the party in power is central to her pitch to voters. "I think Coquitlam-Burke Mountain needs a strong voice in government, someone at the table," she said.

According to the BC Liberal website, Isaacs has 30 years experience in the financial services industry, has consulted with companies and non-profits on business development and charitable giving, and has been involved in numerous community groups.

The mother of two boys, she has been involved in lacrosse and hockey associations, as well as organizations working on homelessness and restorative justice.

Isaacs has also been active in the BC Liberal Party, sitting on the executive of the riding associations in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and neighbouring Port Moody-Coquitlam, and as secretary of the party's women's network.

Asked for her top issues, she listed the need to improve transit and to support the growth of the sharing economy, including the ride sharing website Uber and the short-term rental website Airbnb.

With the Evergreen Line extending the SkyTrain to Coquitlam due to open in 2017, she'll push to make sure local bus routes feed into the system, she said.

The provincial government has so far been cautious about Uber, which threatens the existing licensed taxi industry. And there are criticisms that Airbnb takes units that could otherwise buy long-term rentals out of the market.

In both cases Isaacs said the public demand for the services, including those who hope to benefit from providing them, is such that the government shouldn't fight the tide.

Airbnb rentals tend to be affordable for travellers, she said. "It certainly provides a great opportunity if you need a place to stay."

She said she's met with people from the taxi industry, but they haven't changed her mind. "This is a new technology and a new way of a sharing economy and there's a demand for it," she said.

B.C. is leading the country in economic growth and job creation, Isaacs said. And while it's a challenge to fund housing and transit, the government needs to set priorities and balance them with keeping taxes low, she said. "We're moving our plans forward to make life more affordable."

Families first? Whose?

Wickens, the NDP candidate, is the executive director of the Autism Support Network and with her husband is raising two boys in Coquitlam. With experience as a professional advocate who helps people navigate the government's systems, she'd bring a strong voice for the community, she said.

"This government listens solely to people at the top, not everyday people and families," she said.

Clark came to power promising a "families first" agenda, Wickens said. "I certainly don't feel that my family has come first, and a lot of families feel that way," she said.

Instead, the government has raised Medical Service Plan premiums, allowed hydro rates to go up, and stood by as the price of food inflates, she said.

Meanwhile incomes for families like hers in the middle haven't gone up, she said. "Nobody is fighting for me and listening to me and understanding that life is challenging."

The Liberal government has made tax cuts to the wealthy a top priority, she said. It makes sense to ask the wealthy to contribute a little more to pay for services for everyone, she said, especially since cuts to government spending often lead to greater expenses later.

Part of that is supporting public education, said Wickens, who previously ran unsuccessfully to be a school board trustee.

"I know classrooms in Coquitlam are struggling," she said. "I will be a voice saying this is not good enough... I've seen it with my own children. I've seen it with other people's children."

As an MLA she would work hard to connect with people in the community and bring their concerns to the legislature, she said. "You just work hard and make sure you put the priorities of British Columbians first."

The Shithead vote

Keithley said the Greens offer an alternative for people who find the Liberals out of touch and the NDP directionless.

"I think I'd be a rarity as a politician," he said. "A true outsider, so to speak, who would stand up for people."

Politicians, like many musicians, tend to lose track of who supported them in the early days, Keithley said. "Christy Clark would be a great example of someone who forgot who got her there and only paid attention to the special interests."

Keithley said he'd look for more ways to engage the public in decision-making between elections. He also said he supports capping campaign donations at no more than $2,000, possibly as little as $1,000. "It would help restore democracy."

He cited education as his top issue, saying the school system is "starved." While wages may need to be addressed, more pressing is the need for extra staff to help students who have special needs and for English as a second language funding, he said.

It's time to move towards providing free post-secondary education to those who are most in need of help, he said.

"People want good, sensible government that's fair," he said, but added that everyone interprets "fair" a little differently.

With D.O.A., Keithley is known by the nickname Joey Shithead. Asked if the name's hampered his transition to politics, he said, "People always vote for shitheads. We'll find out this time if they'll vote for Joe Shithead."  [Tyee]

Read more: Municipal Politics

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