Svend Robinson returns to politics with plans to tackle climate change, housing affordability and Big Pharma

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Photo: Kim Elliott/

The Burnaby North-Seymour NDP Riding Association acclaimed former MP and veteran progressive Svend Robinson on Saturday as its candidate for the federal election.

Addressing a packed room of activists and constituents at the Confederation Seniors Centre in north Burnaby, Robinson, who represented various federal ridings in Burnaby from 1979 until 2004, said he was returning to public life to fight climate change and the housing affordability crisis.

"I am running to put climate change and global warming at the top of our political agenda, and to demand that we mobilize the same way we mobilize nationally to fight a war," Robinson said. "It means we must listen to and respect the voices of indigenous leaders, both hereditary and elected councils."

Robinson spoke of the need for a "massive transition to green energy and green jobs," and said "the market has failed" at delivering affordable housing for working-class families.

"I am running to call for a massive program of non-profit, non-market housing construction: energy efficient and affordable," he explained.

"We need to transform our economic system, to put people and the environment before profit," he summarized with thunderous applause from the room.

During his speech, Robinson also stressed his lifelong commitments to fighting anti-Semitism, standing in solidarity with the people in Palestine, and supporting the right to medically-assisted dying.

Also speaking at the event, scientist and activist David Suzuki criticized the Liberal government’s failure to deliver on its promises to alter the environmentally destructive course of the Stephen Harper era, and called for transformative policies to meet the challenges set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report.

"We’ve got to shut down the industry of fossil fuels: this is the challenge of our time," Suzuki said, before praising Robinson’s commitment to putting "principle over party politics."

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who also attended the event, reiterated Robinson’s call to fight climate change "in a bold way."

Peter Julian, the MP for New Westminster-Burnaby, said Robinson will make an “extraordinary MP,” and called for a government "investing in people, not corporate tax cuts."

Speaking to after his nomination, Robinson said the next election would be a matter of "life or death" in tackling climate change and economic inequality, but said he believes the left is energized and capable of pushing back against climate reactionaries and right-wing xenophobia.

"As we look around at growing inequality, the rise in racism and attacks on migrants, the rise of appalling leaders like Bolsanaro in Brazil, Trump in the U.S., and Orbán in Hungary, this is a time when we have to push back," he explained.

"We’ve got to do it in away that working people can relate to," he added.

According to Robinson, a proposal that has resonated particularly well with constituents and activists has been his call to establish a publicly-owned pharmaceutical company.

"I’ve had a number of people emailing me saying they’re very excited about that idea," Robinson explained.

"I think it has huge potential. Canada should be a global leader in recognizing that access to medicine is a fundamental human right. We should recognize that this is an area in which the public sector can play an incredibly valuable role: taking on Big Pharma head on," he said.

After stepping aside from politics in 2004, Robinson spent a decade working on health issues in Switzerland where he said he witnessed first hand the destructive impact of private pharmaceutical corporations.

"Big Pharma, globally, has one fundamental objective, and that’s maximizing global profit," he said. "That means they don’t give a damn about the diseases of the poor."

While Robinson said he would fully support the implementation of a universal pharmaceutical coverage plan, he argued this policy doesn’t go far enough.

"That policy alone, to some extent, is a gift to pharmaceutical companies, because they’re going to make a lot of bucks from it," he explained.

The first openly gay MP in Canadian history, Robinson also stressed his ongoing support for LGBTQ causes.

"We’ve made incredible progress," he explained, "but there are outstanding issues that we have to address."

“There’s the continuing concern of high levels of suicide and homelessness among young LGBTI people,” he said.

"The other issue is the blood ban, which remains in force despite the Liberals’ promise to get rid of it," he added.

Although Robinson faces a formidable challenge in flipping the Burnaby North-Seymour riding from Liberal incumbent Terry Beech, the NDP candidate's bold policies and reputation as a dedicated MP are sure to tighten the race come the general election this fall.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgress, Left Foot Forward and in several local publications in B.C.

Photo: Kim Elliott/

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