The Metrotown Residents’ Association is seeing a double standard when it comes to hosting all-candidates’ debates in Burnaby. The Association which has hosted two meetings since September and has begun the process to be recognized as a society was told it would have to pay a rate of $55.13 per hour to use Maywood Community School pending availability.
MRA organizer, Rick McGowan, wants an open and honest debate that addresses the issues of the Metrotown community. He does not think the Association should have to finance a debate that will inform all voters of candidates’ positions on Metrotown’s development.
On Tuesday, Nov. 4, the Heights Neighbourhood Association will host a Q&A at the Gilmore Community School. In an email exchange with the chair of the Heights Neighbourhood Association who is also a planner with the City of Burnaby, McGowan learned that there was no cost for the space at Gilmore Community School because, as part of its mandate, it makes its space available to community-based groups wherever possible. The school is already open on Tuesday evenings so they did not need to pay for janitorial costs.
When McGowan asked Karen Sunner, Facility Rentals Coordinator for Burnaby School District, to explain the apparent double standard, she replied in an email, “The decision is made at the school level as to what the potential impact would be on the facilities themselves. It is left to the discretion of community schools whether they feel the cost of having 100+ on-site, plus use of chairs and water costs for washrooms, can be absorbed at the school level.”
Being told that the decision is made at the community level, McGowan went back to Maywood’s community school coordinator and confirmed there was space available on Thursdays after 6:30. He sent a blanket email to all candidates to check for availability. Burnaby First Coalition, and independent candidates have confirmed their availability , but the Burnaby Citizens’ Association has yet to respond to the MRA’s inquiry.
When inquiring about candidates’ interest in a debate, McGowan learned that there will be a “Community Dialogue” with candidates at the Burnaby Neighbourhood House.
“The first I heard about it was through an email response from a candidate,” McGowan says. “ It barely registered on Google and I could only find one 8.5 x 11 poster, in English only, advertising the event. Not even the BNH, Maywood School or Mosaic had advertisements on their notice boards.”
McGowan recalls the fact that in the 2013 Provincial Election there was no debate organized in Burnaby Lougheed, where the NDP candidate, Jane Shin, faced strong candidates from both the Liberal and Green parties. He wants to ensure residents in the area have the opportunity to ask questions of all candidates and learn where the hopefuls stand on the issues important to them.
Some of the issues the MRA hopes to address through a debate are the loss of affordable housing, changes to density bonus provisions, the proposed major performance / event centre and the public consultation process.