Affordability among top issues in Vancouver-Kingsway federal election campaign
Affordability concerns are among the topics at the centre of the campaign debate in Vancouver-Kingsway, a riding that could face a tight race on May 2.
The area is being targeted by federal parties hoping to capitalize on what University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon said is considered a competitive riding.
“Vancouver-Kingsway historically was a strong NDP riding”¦but the boundaries have changed somewhat and the demography has changed obviously with the shift in housing prices,” Pilon told the Straight. Kingsway is one of three Vancouver electoral districts the professor has identified as potential sway ridings.
Incumbent NDP MP Don Davies said immigration issues were among the most frequent concerns brought to his office by constituents during his first term.
“My office over the last three years has handled over 3,000 cases, and over 80 percent of those cases have involved helping folks with their immigration matters,” he told the Straight by phone.
The area is home to a highly diverse population, with more than 100 languages spoken.
Davies said he’s heard many cases of Indo-Canadian families being refused a visitor’s visa to allow a relative to travel to Canada to attend a funeral.
He also criticized the long waiting times, sometimes 10 to 13 years, for families applying for elderly relatives to join them in Canada under the family reunification program.
“These are family-destroying policies, life-destroying policies when you don’t recognize credentials, and soul-destroying in some cases,” said Davies.
Two of the candidates in the diverse electoral riding immigrated to Canada when they were young.
Second-time Liberal candidate Wendy Yuan said she came to Canada from China on a scholarship, with $50 in her pocket.
Yuan said she’s spoken to many families in Vancouver-Kingsway that were trained in their home countries as nurses, engineers or accountants, and are struggling to make ends meet in jobs outside their field in Canada.
“It saddens me to see when people open the doors for me, and they’re living in the basement and their kids are playing with second-hand toys, and then they say”¦what are you politicians doing - tell me what you can do,” Yuan told the Straight by phone.
First-time Conservative candidate Trang Nguyen came to Canada when she was eight years old. Nguyen, her parents and her four siblings left Vietnam as boat refugees and spent a year in Malaysia before arriving in Canada.
Nguyen noted Canadians of various backgrounds comprise nearly 70 percent of the riding.
“It’s a very unique riding, as you see when you walk along Kingsway, you can see the mosaic of businesses, of different cultures and heritages, and I think that’s what contributes to the multiculturalism in Canada,” she told the Straight.
Davies said the major concern he's been hearing from constituents is affordability, following two and a half years of recession since the last election.
"A lot of people, a lot of small businesses are suffering, and that’s the key difference I think between September ’08 and now," he said.
“Wages are too low, housing costs are too high, people are worried about their parents,” he said. “There’s a lot of seniors who are living in very marginal circumstances.”
Yuan said health care and costs of living are a major concern in the area, particularly for seniors and post-secondary students.
“People on the doorstep tell me, I have two, three, four kids and they’re in universities or high schools, and we worry about earning enough money to pay for our kids’ education,” she said.
Nguyen cites economy and crime as the major issues for constituents she’s spoken to.
“They’re concerned with crime, because a lot of families have young children and elderly, and so they want a safe neighbourhood,” she said.
Child care is the central focus of Green candidate Louise Boutin’s campaign.
Originally from Montreal, Boutin said she is proposing a Quebec-style child care system, involving an affordable set fee for child care. She also wants to see better before- and after-school care programs.
She added affordable housing is another concern for the constituency.
“We do have a lot of rental because it’s mostly single-family homes, so a lot of basement or first-level suites,” she told the Straight.
The former Green candidate won 3,000 votes in the 2008 election. Boutin said she’s aiming for 4,500 this May.
Incumbent Davies had 15,933 votes in the last election, or about 35 percent of the votes, while Yuan had 13,164, or 29 percent of the vote. The Conservative candidate followed with 12,419, or about 27 percent, of votes.
Davies said he views the riding as “a very competitive seat".
"We take nothing for granted and are focusing very hard on our campaign," he said.
Yuan hopes to improve on the results of last year’s election by overcoming the “David Emerson factor” that she said impacted the campaign last year, referring to the former Liberal MP who crossed the floor to the Conservatives after being elected.
While Pilon said some Kingsway voters may still be “gun shy” about casting a ballot for the Liberals, Yuan is optimistic.
“I hear the thirst for change,” she said. “I feel very different this time around on the doorsteps”.
The four candidates will face off in the riding’s first debate on Wednesday, April 20. The event will take place at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, at 5288 Joyce Street, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.