Gay MPs have represented the BC riding of Burnaby-Douglas since it came into existence in a riding redistribution in 1996. And it has been an NDP stronghold the entire time.
Svend Robinson held the reins there for two terms, and now Bill Siksay is looking to be re-elected as the riding’s representative in Ottawa.
Siksay is Robinson’s former constituency assistant. When Robinson resigned after confessing to have stolen a ring from an auction house, Siksay replaced him as the riding’s NDP candidate. He secured the seat for the NDP in the 2004 federal election.
But, from 1979 to 2004, area voters gave their support to Robinson.
Siksay’s lead in each of two outings to the polls has been comparatively narrow, defeating the Liberal candidate in each race by about 1,000 votes.
For the region to have been represented by gay MPs for well over 25 years makes it something of an anomaly in Canadian politics, says queer political science professor Dennis Pilon of the University of Victoria.
But sexuality has little to do with the electoral equation these days, according to Pilon.
“Average folk are saying it’s gone beyond being important.” It’s “what about my taxes?” he notes.
In the Oct 14 election, Siksay faces challenges from Liberal Bill Cunningham and Conservative Ronald Leung.
Leung is an online radio commentator, which could help him in the Asian community.
Cunningham is a relatively high-profile Liberal loyalist who sits on the board of directors for the Simon Fraser Alumni Association and the Burnaby Symphony Orchestra. He’s also a small business owner.
There is currently no Green Party member contesting the seat.
Pilon says the riding could prove to be a squeaker at the ballot box.
He adds that people in the riding might want to avoid voting strategically based on polls.
“The fact that the Liberals are the second choice in the nationals, doesn’t mean that [Siksay] isn’t the best choice. “They’re better off just voting their conscience.”
Pilon says Siksay has had an atypical career for an MP in that he stepped into Robinson’s shoes as an MP from being a riding assistant.
The riding sits squarely in the middle of the Metro Vancouver region, straddling the divide between Vancouver and its suburbs. It encompasses parts of the former ridings of Burnaby, North Vancouver-Burnaby, and Vancouver Kingsway.
Its main artery is Kingsway, a main commuter route — and a corridor that has been privy to gang activity and high-profile shootings.
Despite that, Siksay says violent crime within the riding is on the decrease.
The riding has a vibrant, multi-ethnic makeup. The 2006 census shows more than half of the people in the city are immigrants with seven-eighths holding Canadian citizenship.
Visible minorities make up 50 percent of Burnaby’s population.
Pilon notes that the area’s demographic make-up has shifted over the years from a poorer Italian-dominated immigrant population to a well-heeled Asian one.
“They don’t necessarily respond to the market fundamentalism of the Harper Conservatives,” he says.
“It’s not a lean, mean state [they want], it’s a state that provides services to them and their kids,” he explains. “They do socialism when it’s pragmatic.”
Burnaby-Douglas has a diverse economy, encompassing retail, manufacturing and other services.
It is also home to Simon Fraser University, one of BC’s three largest universities. Residents are well educated; almost 20 percent hold a university degree. The average family earned $57,248 per year in 2001 and unemployment was 6.8 percent.