Prof seeks Emerson's seat

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UBC medical-school professor Kerry Jang has told the Georgia Straight that he plans to seek the federal NDP nomination in Vancouver Kingsway. Jang said he hopes to address local issues such as daycare and social housing, which he claimed have been overlooked by Liberal and Conservative MPs. Jang also said that he wants to protect the Canada Health Act.

Last April, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC awarded Jang, 44, its academic-of-the-year award for creating support programs for homeless people in the Collingwood area of East Vancouver. He recently stepped down as president of Collingwood Neighbourhood House, which provides a range of community services, including drug-awareness programs for youth.

Jang, president of the provincial NDP constituency association in Vancouver Kingsway, said that federal NDP leader Jack Layton called him a month ago and asked him to seek a nomination. “The Chinese community has been pushing me quite a bit as well,”  Jang said.

According to Statistics Canada, 68 percent of the population in Vancouver Kingsway belonged to a visible minority in 2001, and 42 percent of the population was of Chinese descent. Jang claimed that the federal Liberals and Conservatives both lost support in the Chinese community with their handling of the head-tax issue, in which fewer than 300 living survivors and their spouses will be compensated with $20,000 each. Families with members who paid the tax but are no longer living will receive nothing.

“We're not asking for thousands of dollars for every generation,”  Jang said, quickly adding that the Conservatives and Liberals “don't understand Chinese family structure” .

The sitting MP is David Emerson, who crossed the floor to the Conservatives after the 2006 election. Emerson did not respond to the Straight's request for an interview by deadline.

Jang noted that he has lived his entire life in the riding, apart from a couple of years when he attended school in Ontario. “I'm a local boy,”  he said. “Whatever happens to you in this riding happens to me.” 

Former Liberal MP Sophia Leung lived near UBC while she was MP for Vancouver Kingsway. Emerson lives in Kerrisdale. The current Liberal candidate, Wendy Yuan, lives in Richmond.

Vancouver Kingsway extends from Oak Street on the west to Boundary Road on the east, and is mostly bounded by 16th Avenue on the north and 41st Avenue on the south. In the 2006 election, Emerson defeated the NDP's Ian Waddell by 4,494 votes.

Last year, Jang spearheaded a “people's by-election”  that showed 95 percent of people agreed that Emerson should have quit and run in a by-election as a Conservative candidate. Jang said that during that time, people on the street told him they were tired of having candidates “parachuted”  in from other areas. “They're saying stuff like, 'We really want someone who is from here, who understands us,'”  Jang claimed.

Yuan, president and CEO of exporter Bradley Pacific Enterprises, told the Straight that she is committed to the people of Vancouver Kingsway riding and has spent the past three or four years knocking on doors in the riding. “I do live in Richmond, but I intend to move in the riding right away,”  she said.

Yuan also pointed out that unlike Jang, she speaks Mandarin and Cantonese in a riding with a large number of voters for whom English is a second language. “Definitely, when you're Chinese, people in that riding expect you to speak their prime dialect,”  she said. “I speak both Cantonese and Mandarin. It is going to be to my great advantage to communicate with voters.” 

Jang quipped that he can speak good “restaurant Chinese” . On a more serious note, Jang said that most voters are bilingual, and he claimed that the NDP has been winning support in the Chinese community with its efforts to preserve health-care services at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital. “That was a really big thing,”  Jang said. “It was the Chinese hospital.” 

Yuan pointed out that she is supporting former environment minister Stéphane Dion in the federal Liberal leadership race and said she is stressing the importance of an “environment-friendly economy” . Yuan also said she thinks it's worth “considering”  a tax on gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles, but she added that she opposes Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff's proposal for a carbon tax.

When asked about peak oil, Yuan said she hadn't given the issue a lot of thought and didn't have anything to say about the subject.