COLUMN: Let the silly season begin

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The NewsLeader has published more than a dozen stories on the proposed redevelopment of Brentwood mall since late 2011.

They’ve been on our paper’s front page, page three and beyond. There have been open houses, a master plan, rezoning applications and public hearings, all before shovels even hit the ground.

And yet, just before Christmas and again this month, suddenly we started seeing letters decrying a lack of public consultation and the overly massive scale of the 30-year project.

So what happened?

Welcome to the silly season, folks.

Perhaps their timing is simply unfortunate and coincidental. But one can’t help wonder whether other forces are afoot.

We are now just over eight months away from the next civic election. Leading up to Tuesday’s public hearing on the first tower planned for Brentwood mall, just such a letter made the rounds to local media.

And it so happens that four out of the eight people who signed it are either former civic election candidates or backroom operatives for local and provincial political parties.

Of the other four, I know three have legitimate concerns about traffic in their neighbourhoods which sit adjacent or quite near the mall site.

Unfortunately, by aligning themselves with these political types, let’s just say the optics aren’t good.

People complain about the fact the Burnaby Citizens Association has a complete monopoly on civic politics, having swept the last two elections for mayor, council and school board.

But the reality is voters aren’t given much in the way of choices at election time. They can’t simply turn to those who have held the BCA’s feet to the fire, because in between elections, there’s no one around doing that.

It appears after each race, the unsuccessful candidates go back to their regular lives, jobs and families for a couple of years, resting and topping up their savings accounts before they brace themselves to take another run at it. That’s the repeat candidates. Others just give up and move on.

In the year before the election, political parties and candidates pop up—kind of like those temporary shops and food kiosks so trendy today—and stir the pot, hoping to dig up issues they can hang a campaign on.

Like a lack of public consultation on a major development project.

Back in 2005, it was a Team Burnaby-fueled perception that crime was taking over the city. Never mind that crime rates have been dropping steadily in recent years.

Speaking of Team Burnaby, it sent out a press release last week just to let people know they are still around and promising to run a full slate of candidates.

It’s too bad the party’s focus is on quantity and not necessarily quality. Its past practice of recruiting warm bodies for its slate only serves to hurt the credibility of the candidates with the experience and background to help make a difference.

Burnaby Parents Voice, meanwhile, has aggressively sought accountability on issues at the school district. It ran a slate of candidates for school trustee back in 2011. Unfortunately, the party, if it’s even still active, will always be linked to its original reason for being—to vehemently oppose the district’s policy aimed at combatting homophobia in Burnaby schools.

The Burnaby Greens were a refreshing addition last election, but its links to Parents Voice on the Brentwood mall issue now seems to muddy its image of a party with liberal and practical views on how the city should be run.

And while all these folks jog towards the start line in the distance, the left-wing BCA is almost already there. Its well-oiled political machine continues to hum along, building and maintaining support, holding fundraisers to fill its communal war chest so personal finances aren’t an impediment to its candidates.

It seems the BCA is always only a few phone calls away from going into full battle mode.

Love them or not, this much can be said for them: they’re organized.

• Wanda Chow is a reporter with the NewsLeader.



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