Former New Democrat MP Svend Robinson wants to return to politics

BURNABY, B.C. — Former New Democrat MP Svend Robinson is attempting a political comeback, nearly 15 years after his theft of an expensive diamond ring brought an end to his decades-long career.

Standing outside his childhood home in Burnaby, B.C., Robinson said he expects to be acclaimed as the NDP candidate in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour at a nomination meeting on Saturday.

He has been knocking on doors in the riding and Robinson said no one has brought up the theft that derailed his career in 2004.

“How many times does one have to pay for a stupid mistake?” Robinson asked Tuesday.

“I am asking the people of Burnaby North-Seymour and Canadians to judge me not on the basis of one serious mistake 15 years ago, for which I paid the price, but to judge me for my lifetime of service to my community, to my country and for the past decade, internationally.”

Robinson, 66, pleaded guilty to theft over $5,000 after stealing an engagement ring from an auction where it was valued at $64,500. The RCMP later obtained a retail valuation that amounted to $21,500.

He revealed he was suffering from bipolar disorder at the time. A provincial court judge handed him a conditional discharge, along with a year’s probation and community service.

Since leaving politics, he has spent time in Switzerland working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

On Tuesday, Robinson said he is returning to public life for two fundamental reasons: climate change and the affordable housing crisis.

“I am running first and foremost to put climate change and global warming at the top of our political agenda, to demand that we mobilize the same way nationally that we mobilize to fight a war,” he said.

“Only this time, it’s a war to save our planet, a war in which there are no casualties, no lives lost, but a war that’s going to save lives, a war for our children’s future.”

He accused the Liberal government of failing to respond to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which warned there are only 12 years left to prevent the catastrophic impacts of global warming on the planet.

He also said the Liberals have shown “contempt” for Indigenous Peoples and the safety of British Columbia’s coastal waters.

The Trans Mountain pipeline runs through Burnaby and Liberal MP Terry Beech, who represents Burnaby North-Seymour, has touted the government’s efforts to protect orcas from increased vessel traffic.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s approach to resource development after confrontations over a different pipeline in northern B.C.

“We know we cannot do it without creating partnerships and engaging with Indigenous Peoples who are the traditional custodians of these lands, without thinking deeply about the environmental consequences and the long-term impacts of the choices we’re making,” he said.

Robinson drew on his family’s experience to illustrate to the housing crisis in Metro Vancouver. The modest home his family rented when he was a boy is now worth $2.3 million, he said, and it’s an “outrage” his nephew, a journeyman electrician, and his wife, a family counsellor, cannot afford to live in the community where they grew up with their three kids.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is running for his first Parliament seat in a byelection in the neighbouring riding of Burnaby South and Robinson recently appeared with him at a campaign event.

In 1988, Robinson was the first MP to declare his homosexuality and became a crusader for gay and lesbian rights in Canada. He’s also known for supporting ALS sufferer Sue Rodriguez in her fight for the right to assisted death, which she narrowly lost in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993.

He said Tuesday he is still living with mental illness like millions of Canadians, and he continues to seek therapy.

“I stole a ring. I will regret that for the rest of my life, even though both the prosecutor and the judge accepted that I was struggling with mental illness at the time,” he said.

“I took full responsibility for my actions. I gave up the job I loved. I did community work service … and I got the professional therapy and medication I needed to get back on my feet.”

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