1. The election campaign was divisive. How have things progressed since?
Elections are always a competition of ideas, but once they are over the hope is that everyone will be respectful and work together as much as possible.
I think we have a lot of talent on this new council and I hope that potential can translate into putting Surrey first, rather than pushing our personal politics.
2. Instead of a 17.5% proposed tax hike Surrey residents are now on the hook for a 12.5% hike. This would reduce the tax increase for an average homeowner in Surrey from around $460 to $280. Surrey homeowners will be facing a property tax hike regardless of which way the City goes on policing. So how do you justify this to Surrey residents?
The Mayor’s proposed 17.5 percent tax hike was a real surprise to me and just about every taxpayer in Surrey. There’s no question the former Mayor left our city with a lot of financial challenges. I am glad that we are able to come together on council and send the proposed budget back to staff to get it reduced to 12.5 percent. Right now we’re still waiting to hear the final decision by the Province on keeping the SPS or staying with the RCMP, and that will have an impact on the final budget number. In the end it’s always the taxpayer who pays for those mistakes and that’s both frustrating and disappointing and city council needs to do much better.
3. You feel there are a lot of financial assumptions about the cost of keeping the Surrey Police Service, or continuing with the RCMP. In your statement released in February you are largely blaming the McCallum administration in turn calling for an independent audit of the transition . How confident are you that the audit will take place?
Last term and this term I’ve pushed for an independent auditor general, something every other big city in Canada has. We need that in our city because Surrey has a budget of more than $1.4 billion. Having an independent auditor general is the responsible thing to do and it would have ensured taxpayers got value for money. I’m going to keep pressing for that.
4. An ethics commissioner has been re-instated for the City of Surrey, so can we expect more transparency at City Hall?
Unfortunately the previous council and city hall were not transparent. All of us who campaigned in the last election were committed to more transparency, so we’ll have to wait and see if that promise of transparency is delivered. All of us on council work for our residents and taxpayers, so when we’re not listening, speak up and tell us, that public pressure can change everything.
5. The Surrey Board of Trade is very concerned about the City of Surrey’s proposed tax increase. The CEO of the board Anita Huberman says she is not clear on what businesses are going to be facing when they receive their property tax bill in July. What assurance can you provide to business owners?
Having a strong business community is important for all of us in Surrey. We need to grow new businesses and new jobs right here at home so people can work where they live. When business taxes are too high, businesses will go somewhere else and when that happens our city loses jobs, revenues, and a healthy economy. The Surrey Board of Trade makes a very strong argument when it comes to business taxes, and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure all of us on council hear and understand that message.
6. A recent shocking report from the Surrey Board of Trade states that the Surrey Memorial hospital is not equipped to deal with health issues. Has council looked into lobbying with the provincial government to meet the needs of Surrey residents?
I don’t think Surrey has ever fully leveraged its real political clout. We are a vote-rich community and city hall should be working closely with our MLAs and MPs to make sure Surrey priorities get the attention and investment they deserve and need from the province and federal governments. First and foremost I want to make sure our local taxpayers are getting their fair share of federal and provincial funding, but I also want to work as a valuable partner that the province and federal government takes seriously.
7. The City of Surrey will use new provincial infrastructure funding of $90M to shave 5 points from a proposed 17.5% property tax hike. Do you think we will see any cuts to City services even though the Mayor has said she doesn't want to make any cuts to services?
The nearly $90 million from the province is for capitol projects and is a one-time contribution. But it came at just the right moment and will certainly help us to reduce the proposed tax hike from 17.5 to 12.5 percent. We need to make regular investments in infrastructure because we’re a growing city. Quite simply we need to get our finances in order and be completely transparent with our taxpayers who pay all the bills.
8. What is high priority on your agenda this term as a councillor?
I think the first thing has to be police transition. The whole police transition issue has wasted time and money and divided our city. We need to accept the provincial government’s decision and get on with it.
9. It is your second term as a councillor what is an accomplishment that you are most proud of?
When I was elected in 2018 I was the only Surrey First councillor and completely new to politics. I learned really quickly that Surrey residents wanted to be engaged, so I started speaking up more and challenging the things that city hall and city council were doing that weren’t in the best interest of our residents. So in that first term I found my feet and found a platform to speak up for our residents and taxpayers, and I love this job, and I hope it shows.
10. The March/April issue of Darpan Magazine is dedicated to International Women's Day. What's a message you would like to share with South Asian women and the South Asian community at large?
Getting elected to city council was such an eye-opener. I got invitations to so many incredible community and cultural events, and I saw parts of our city I knew very little about. I learned just how important our city’s diversity is to our character as a community, and I learned we are a big place, the size of Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby combined. I saw firsthand that women in Surrey are leaders and organizers and entrepreneurs, and they are the glue that holds families together. It was inspiring to see women do so much for so many.
You can’t be from Surrey and not appreciate what the South Asian community brings to our city. The fabric of our city is stronger, more entertaining, more colourful, better tasting, and more entrepreneurial because of our South Asian residents. Together, we’re writing the Surrey story, and the contributions of our South Asian community are definitely there for all to see.