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BC Election 2017
BC Politics

In Burnaby-Deer Lake, Will China-Taiwan Divide Affect Election?

Housing costs, economy likely key issues.

Jeremy Nuttall 28 Apr

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa, now back in B.C. covering the 2017 election.

This report is part of The Tyee’s reader-funded B.C. 2017 election coverage. To learn more about becoming a Tyee Builder, go here.

The provincial election battle in Burnaby-Deer Lake could be affected by longstanding tensions on the other side of the planet, according a Chinese-language radio show host.

The riding is one of the most ethnically diverse in British Columbia. Restaurants featuring food from almost every corner of the globe are scattered along the streets. About 65 per cent of residents report English is their second language; almost half of them say Mandarin or Cantonese is their first language.

That’s evident from the Chinese characters on restaurant and business signs, particularly near the giant Metrotown development.

In 2013, NDP incumbent Kathy Corrigan edged out Liberal Shian Gu by just 903 votes. Corrigan isn’t running this year, and her retirement sets up a battle between candidates with roots in the Chinese community, one from Taiwan and one from Mainland China.

Anne Kang, a teacher and Burnaby city councillor, is the NDP candidate. She’s originally from Taiwan and active in the Taiwanese community.

Liberal Karen Wang, the owner of a small daycare chain, is from Mainland China.

Relations between Taiwan and China have been tense since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1950, when the island of Taiwan remained apart from the Mainland controlled by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party. Beijing still claims Taiwan is part of China.

Wang did not respond to two requests from The Tyee for an interview. The New Democrats’ Kang initially agreed, but declined once she learned the topics would include the impact of China-Taiwan divisions.

Journalist and talk show Johann Chang said the candidates’ backgrounds could have a bearing on the race, though less dramatically than in federal elections. Chang, who hosts Public Forum, a Cantonese talk show on Fairchild radio, said provincial elections tend to attract less interest from Chinese communities because the province has little power when it comes to immigration issues.

Chang said voters from Mainland China tend to support a party, and a candidate from the community doesn’t have a major advantage.

But voters with roots in Taiwan are more likely to vote for someone with the same heritage, he said.

“Local Taiwanese here feel like they are a very small minority here in B.C. So whenever there is a Taiwanese politicians they want to get them out there and help them get into the legislature,” he said.

Chang said voters in the Chinese community seem to be concerned about the NDP’s economic plan while the BC Liberals are facing a loss of support because they’re associated with the federal Liberal plan to legalize marijuana.

Many voters in the Chinese community don’t support legalizing pot, Chang said, so the provincial Liberals have had to work to distance themselves from the Trudeau Liberals.

Housing affordability is another issue raised by callers to his talk show, Chang said, and many seem unhappy with the Liberals’ handling of the file.

“In the past year I started to get a sense they are disappointed at the Liberals,” he said. “Their children cannot afford a home to start their own family.”

This election doesn’t seem to be engaging constituents in Burnaby-Deer Lake, even less so than in 2013, when only 48 per cent of eligible voters participated, Chang said. The provincial turnout was 57.1 per cent.

The Green candidate is Rick McGowan, a teacher at the Pearson Adult Learning Centre in New Westminster. He captured 8.4 per cent of the vote in 2014.

The Conservatives are represented by Graham Bowers, a high school math teacher. The party didn’t have a candidate in 2013, and could play a role in deciding the outcome of a close race.  [Tyee]

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