Times Colonist Candidate Profile - Murray Rankin

New Democratic Party of Canada

Occupation: Environmental and aboriginal rights lawyer; adjunct professor

Community involvement: Community chairman of UVic's student-run Environmental Law Centre; founding member of B.C.'s Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which provides legal services to under privileged groups; former chairman of the B.C. Land Conservancy

Environmental lawyer Murray Rankin met his wife at a founding board meeting for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, his inspiration is his mom and his modern-day hero is Canadian social democrat Stephen Lewis.

His mom, who died about five years ago, wife Linda Hannah, and Lewis are at the heart of the Harvard-educated lawyer's greatest inspirations.

His is the story of a bike-riding, vegetarian, dyed-in-the-wool social democrat who has fought on behalf of the environment, First Nations, and the discriminated - not surprisingly, he said he's "completely at home with the NDP."

"I dream of us becoming government, but I would be totally content to serve Victoria in any capacity," said Rankin, who is bilingual.

Married in 1984 to Hannah, Rankin has two grown children - Benjamin, 25, and Mark, 22. He was born in Belleville, Ont., in 1950, the only male of five children, to Eleanore, a teacher, and McKinley Rankin, a teacher and insurance agent.

His mother was brilliant - valedictorian in her high school class - but couldn't pay for university, he said. Instead, she went to Peterborough, Ont.'s teacher's college, where she met his father. "I always felt it was such a tragedy she couldn't afford to go on."

That taught him the importance of access to higher education. "I only went on to university on scholarships, grants and loans," he said. And growing up in a house full of females, he said, taught him first-hand the struggles for women's equality.

Called to the bar in B.C. in 1976, Rankin became environmental law professor at the University of Victoria the next year, where he remained until 1990. Since 2004, he has been an adjunct law professor.

In 1990, Rankin joined up with his friend Joe Arvay to become managing partner for the boutique law firm Arvay Finlay, which successfully took on same-sex marriage rights and the Surrey school district, which attempted to ban same-sex tolerant books.

In 1994, he was appointed by NDP premier Mike Harcourt as a treaty negotiator for the province. In 2006, he joined the powerhouse 600-person law firm Heenan Blaikie. He left last year and set up an independent practice.

"I'm not a tax-and-spend socialist," Rankin said. "I've worked in the private sector for 14 years and I understand how business works, and I care about a prosperous B.C. and Canada."

Rankin was 17 when he attended a "life-changing" speech by then-Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis."I've been licking envelopes and going to meetings in church basements ever since," Rankin said. "That was one of the early attractions to politics for me."

Rankin has no elected experience, but was in the backroom of several campaigns, including those of Saanich-South MLA Andrew Petter and Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James.He unofficially helped longtime friend Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae in his successful bid for the federal Liberal party leadership.

About a decade ago he was tapped to seek the B.C. NDP's leadership. He didn't, and Carole James won.

"I always wanted to be a politician at some point in my life," Rankin said.

A pivotal moment came last year when B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix asked Rankin what a province could do under the constitution in the face of federal approval for an interprovincial pipeline. "That's the scenario that's preoccupied me for over a year," Rankin said.

He has led a volunteer legal-advice team on the issue arguing the province should give the required 30 days' notice and withdraw from the federal government's joint-review panel process and set up a "made-in-B.C." environmental assessment that recognizes First Nations' interests.

"Enbridge is probably the key catalyst for my getting involved [in politics] this time," Rankin said. "The level of commitment that people have to stop this pipeline is astounding.

"I want to go to Ottawa because I know there we can defeat it and I want to be part of [an] NDP that stands up to Harper for B.C. and says this is not on."

But Rankin said he's not a person who just cares deeply about the environment. "I care about poverty and the increasing inequality amongst us," homelessness, and funding a national daycare program, he said.

Q&A: MURRAY RANKIN

Top three issues:

1) A national housing strategy. The tragedy of homelessness in Victoria and across Canada is a key issue. The federal government has to step up and help the local and provincial government to address this crisis.

2) Harper's lack of commitment to the environment with the Enbridge pipeline and climate change as well as the gutting of environmental assessments and the Fisheries Act.

3) Lack of affordability of housing particularly for youth and seniors which is exacerbated by the lack of federal housing policies and incentives - as well the government's new one-size-fits-all mortgage rules of 10 per cent down.

They don't work on the West Coast because of higher housing prices here.

Proposed $783-million secondary sewage plant, which has received funding commitments from all three levels of government:

We've been looking at this about 80 years. We now have untreated sewage going into the ocean. ... I think people are saying it's time to get on with it.

I'm not saying for a moment anything is perfect, but we have a plan and we have the money, at least from the federal government.

We have a provincial Liberal government ordering the CRD to clean up, and in the last year federal wastewater regulations have caught up with that. My job as MP is to do my best for the people of Victoria to secure the funding to get on with an order being made by the government. The regulations do not allow for an exemption.

But I think we should try to find ways to reduce the cost.

E&N: We need a transit strategy ... I want to work with local government and the residents of Victoria as to what makes sense in this community and fight for that. Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat:

I think it should be cancelled. I cannot see how it could proceed as currently contemplated by Enbridge. I don't think it can be done safely.

For the past year I have been advising the NDP on their strategy to stop the Enbridge pipeline.

I want to go to Ottawa because I know there we can defeat it and I want to be part of NDP that stands up to Harper for B.C. and says this is not on. It's appalling as a matter of public policy to just let the federal government take care of the entire review.

The Enbridge process has been a travesty.

Homelessness:

That would be my main priority. I will fight for a national housing strategy.

We've got to do better than this. The federal government has not been involved in these issues. I remember when there was a federal minister of housing. It's all been downloaded to the province and there's been cutbacks to social transfers every single year.

We need more affordable housing, more incentives to developers for more rental and co-operative housing. We need a full suite of options, now it's condos or nothing.

Canada-China Investment Treaty:

"The process by which this has been done is an example of the arrogance of the Conservatives and how out of touch Harper is with Canadians.

The NDP is not opposed to international trade. The NDP welcomes fair, balanced, equitable trade, but there is a lot of concern over this particular treaty and the lack of information we've had to assess this particular investment treaty.

Our trade critic is advocating forcefully that it be taken to the international trade committee where it can be assessed clause by clause. We're asking for the sober review Canadians demand.

Answers are based on interviews with the Times Colonist and have been edited for clarity.