Former British Columbia NDP MP Kennedy Stewart won the race for mayor of Vancouver on Saturday, Oct. 20, beating a large field of 21 candidates by a slim margin. Based on his record on the federal stage, we can expect Stewart to be a civic leader who does his homework, pays close attention to policy details and does not confuse rhetorical success with tangible results.
Stewart was first elected to the House of Commons in the Orange Wave election of 2011. That’s when the Jack Layton-led NDP won 101 seats to become, for the first time in its history, the official opposition party.
Stewart won in Burnaby Douglas, part of which had once been Svend Robinson’s riding. Robinson, the first openly gay MP, was a leading figure with the NDP from the 1980s to the early 2000s. He was a high-profile MP who took on contentious causes such as the right to die.
Stewart took a more nose-to-the-grindstone, less flashy approach. He was the party’s critic for science and was known as a hard-working member who diligently mastered his files.
Now, it is already been announced that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh will run in Burnaby Douglas to fill Stewart’s seat when a by-election is called.
Before he got into politics, Stewart had been a professor of public policy. His published works include important contributions on local government and effective democracy. While an MP, he collaborated with two colleagues, Conservative Michael Chong and Liberal Scott Simms, on a book called Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada's Democracy, which consists of a series of essays by MPs from all three major national parties.
As an MP, Stewart opposed the Trans Mountain pipeline-twinning project, which would have great impact on the environment, quality of life and economy of his riding. He helped citizens engage with the National Energy Board consultation process and, last March, together with Green Party leader Elizabeth May, got himself arrested for demonstrating too close to a pipeline work site. He pleaded guilty to criminal contempt and paid a fine of $500
The Burnaby MP also championed increased investment in social housing and vigorously opposed the Harper government’s muzzling of scientists, especially environmental scientists. To assure government policy is aligned with solid science, Stewart proposed the creation of a Parliamentary Science Officer, whose independent role vis-à-vis the scientific and evidence-based rationale for policy would be analogous to that of the Parliamentary Budget Officer vis-à-vis finances.
Stewart’s most notable and concrete success as an MP was his initiative to get the government to accept online petitions in addition to paper petitions.
Paper petitions are a long standing feature of the Canadian parliamentary system. Every day in Parliament, MPs rise to present petitions duly signed and submitted by their constituents. The House enthusiastically adopted Stewart’s private member’s motion that it should extend the same courtesy and consideration to electronic petitions. In December of 2015, Parliament launched a new website to accept such petitions.
Photo: Kennedy Stewart/Facebook
Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.
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