Burnaby has a new civic party looking to topple the Burnaby Citizens’ Association’s decades-long majority on city council in the upcoming municipal election.
The party, named One Burnaby, is running six council candidates with public safety and increased public transit being the slate’s banner issues.
While past contenders against the dominant BCA—including the Burnaby First Coalition and Burnaby Voters’ Association—have skewed right-of-centre, this new party is looking to form a more centrist position.
Mike Hillman, an incumbent councillor and currently sitting as an independent, is leading the charge for One Burnaby, with five more council candidates.
This includes two former Liberal candidates for Burnaby South in the last two federal elections. Richard T Lee, who is also a 16-year BC Liberal MLA in Burnaby North, ran in 2019, and Brea Huang Sami ran in the 2021 election. Both lost to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
The candidates also include: Mona Grewal, who owns her own interior design company and co-owns an architecture and design firm; Mario Miceli, a past senior manager at ICBC and currently the executive director of the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver; and Richard N. Liu, currently a commissioner on the city’s community heritage commission with a history in public relations and event organization.
Hillman said the decision to launch a new political party has its roots four years in the past, just before he worked on Mike Hurley’s successful mayoral campaign in 2018.
“I was involved with another person who was looking at running for mayor because he believed it was time for change,” Hillman said.
When that person decided against running, Hillman was introduced to Hurley and worked on his campaign.
And just about three years later, Hillman launched his own successful campaign for council, following the summer 2020 deaths of councillors Paul McDonell and Nick Volkow.
Though he ran as an independent in the summer 2021 council byelection, he said his experience since then has led him to believe he needs to have a coalition of voices working together.
Distinguishing itself from the BCA
Hillman hasn’t made a huge impact in council meetings, being one of the most quiet councillors during regular meetings, and he’s typically voted alongside Hurley, the BCA, and Burnaby Greens Coun Joe Keithley.
This leaves questions about how his slate would distinguish itself from its competition. In an interview with the Beacon this week, Hillman didn’t provide anything concrete there, though more clarity may come closer to October, when election platforms start to roll out.
He said Burnaby has done an “excellent job” on housing and development, particularly where it comes to developing the four town centres.
“Part of differentiating ourselves will be in the concept of what we’re trying to do and looking at leading the way and how … we really do that,” Hillman said, particularly referencing the forthcoming official community plan review.
That review includes an overhaul of the “urban village” communities in Burnaby—medium density areas that aren’t quite town centres but aren’t suburban single-family neighbourhoods either.
“We started looking at our official community plan and what we’re going to go through with that, and how do we take the best of the world and the best of what people want to see in their communities and then try to create the framework on which those can all happen?” Hillman said.
“I think there’s a differentiation [from the BCA] on that side.”
The other aspect, he noted, is simply getting new voices to the table.
“BCA has had a long history of being on council and controlling council, and this provides an opportunity for people to say, ‘Let’s have some new voices, and let’s bring in some additional thought to the table as we move forward,’” Hillman said.
“I think in many ways, we are leading the way [as a city], but I think we also need to start looking at: how do we really start promoting ourselves and having a bigger presence than the chaos that goes on in Vancouver and Surrey.”
Between Surrey’s conflict-ridden council and Vancouver’s terminally deadlocked council, he said Burnaby has an opportunity to shine in the region.
Endorsing Hurley for re-election
Hillman acknowledged that his slate has a fight ahead of it, with several other slates challenging and being beaten by the BCA. That includes the Burnaby First Coalition, which officially dissolved last year after failing in two consecutive elections to make a dent in the council race.
It also includes the Burnaby Voters’ Association, a long-extinct slate that represented the right flank on council. (Lee was, in fact, once a director of that slate.)
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work. It’s going to be a process of bringing families and communities together, and it’s going to be a look at how do we lead and what areas do we lead in?” Hillman said.
As for the mayoralty, Hillman said he is enthusiastically endorsing Hurley for re-election, meaning the incumbent mayor may not face any partisan challengers this fall.
The Greens have similarly endorsed Hurley, and the BCA, which has been closely aligned with Hurley since 2018, has not yet officially said one way or the other whether it will run its own mayoral candidate.