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Newsmaker of the Year: Kennedy Stewart
It's been something of a wild ride for Kennedy Stewart since being elected the New Democrat MP for Burnaby-Douglas in 2011.
And in only his second year as a rookie MP, Stewart has managed to distinguish himself by drawing attention to a myriad of issues: Kinder Morgan's proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, and the proposed (and now finalized) merger of North Burnaby and North Vancouver into one federal electoral district.
That's in addition to his defense of federal scientists through his role as the Opposition critic for science and technology, his push for electronic petitions being allowed in Parliament and more recently, his mulling over a potential run for the job of BC NDP leader.
It all adds up to Stewart being named the NewsLeader's Newsmaker of the Year.
On a personal level, Stewart said in an interview that in addition to the issues he's been involved in, he's had to deal with being nominated, getting elected, the death of former federal NDP leader Jack Layton shortly after the election, and the ensuing leadership race.
"The amount of change that's happened in last two-and-a-half years, it makes your head spin if you think about it too much."
But through the period of adjustment he's fallen back on what he knows best—academia—to great effect. Stewart is currently on leave from a teaching post at Simon Fraser University's School of Public Policy.
His background in political science has led to his use of one of his research tools in his work as MP—he occasionally commissions polls of households in his riding to gauge opinion on subjects ranging from building a gondola to serve Burnaby Mountain to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which runs from Edmonton and terminates in North Burnaby.
Stewart stressed his background helps him "think more from a policy lens than a political one." That's how he approached the pipeline expansion proposal, collecting as much information as he could, talking to Kinder Morgan officials, unions, industry, environmentalists and the community before shaping his position—that he does not support the project.
He aims to reflect his constituents' views when he's in the House of Commons, and has learned to work with some Conservatives to reach common, non-partisan goals.
He managed to get Conservative backbench MPs to co-sign his e-petitions bill while he's co-signed those of Conservatives, including one calling for a reform of Parliament. It's something he supports because he sees the institution as being too partisan to work effectively.
Stewart said Jack Layton remains his biggest influence in his political work.
"He always says 'no opposition without proposition,' and that's really, if I was going to get something tattooed on myself that would be it."
When acting as the Opposition science critic, one often gets the sense that the Conservative government's handling of federal scientists and their work is something Stewart takes personally.
"I do take that personally, and for 20 years I've been trained to speak truth to power and I see that being curtailed here," Stewart said of his academic experience. "And scientists essentially are somewhat of a defenceless lot in the sense that they're supposed to be neutral."
But if their scientific findings go against what the government wants, they're deemed to be partisan.
"It's the biggest game of chance in humanity. You have a question and you figure out ways to answer the question and lots and lots of times you fail, and sometimes you succeed and all of a sudden you've cured polio."
Corporations will only take on ideas once publicly-financed scientists have generated them, he said. And often, resulting cures, inventions and innovations have nothing to do with the original intentions of the scientists' research.
"And sure, some scientists have wacky ideas but you know, penicillin came from studying bread mould … It sure would've been nice if somebody had studied the pine beetle. It wiped out half our forest industry."
As for the decision by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for B.C. to merge North Burnaby with North Vancouver, it was "a shock" that it was proposed and again, when it upheld its decision despite recommendations from a Parliamentary committee dominated by Conservatives.
Stewart has already announced his intention to run for re-election in the new riding of Burnaby South, where he feels he has stronger roots than in North Vancouver.
But where he runs could be irrelevant if Stewart decides to succeed Adrian Dix as the BC NDP leader. He's been fielding calls of support, and assembled a team to look into the feasibility of such a move.
He plans to announce his decision to run, or not, early in the new year.
And with Kinder Morgan filing its formal application to the National Energy Board (NEB) for its pipeline expansion, he'll be busy on that front as well, with his office geared up to help people get involved in the NEB hearings and a website (letbcdecide.ca) set up to disseminate information.
"When I talk to people it's almost unimaginable that a pipeline this big would be built right through the middle of Burnaby, it's still registering with people," said Stewart, who predicted "it's going to be all Kinder Morgan all the time next year."