The BC municipal elections in Surrey will be held on November 15, 2014. Eligible Surrey voters will elect one major, eight councillors and six school trustees.
In the 1980’s, Australia’s super rock group Men Down Under had a world-wide pop hit called, Who Can It Be Now. Surrey residents might well have this song running through their minds when they cast ballots this November in the municipal election. And for the first time in nine years, there will be a new mayor. After three terms in office Mayor Diane Watts will not run for re-election and that begs the question: Who will fill the shoes of the popular mayor?
Watts says she leaves with deep sense of accomplishment. “When I was elected, I wanted to put public policies in place that would lay the groundwork for future generations and we’ve done that on several fronts. As well, here at city hall, we’ve incorporated a respect of the workplace and have legislated whistle-blower policies to help in keeping efficiencies under control.” She mentions other major initiatives include a crime-reduction strategy and that the city has established a poverty and homelessness foundation. And it’s no secret that Surrey is the fastest growing city in BC today and is expected to overtake the population of Vancouver by 2020.
Watts says, “We’re a city of 570,000 with up to 12-hundred people moving in each month. And a third of our population is under 19 years of age which means we have the largest school district in BC. To that end, we have an excellent network of sports and recreation facilities to accommodate all of that youth activity.” She adds that it’s crucial that the city continues to welcome new businesses into the community to provide income for local residents. “We have a strong Economic Development Department that encourages those who want to open their own stores. The Board of Trade and Chamber attract up to 23-hundred new businesses each year and that provides a lot of employment.”
She says that Surrey has the lowest residential taxes in the province and the second lowest business taxes. “And another exciting thing we’ve done is initiate The Innovations Boulevard where some 188 health care businesses focusing on clinicians and academia to build this industry because we have a cutting edge facility at Surrey Memorial Hospital”, she adds. “This also includes an aero space sector south of the Fraser.”
From a public safety perspective, Watts says they’ve approved the hiring of 95 additional police officers plus community workers . “We’re looking at crime reduction aspects and are targeting prolific offenders as well as establishing a long-term crime reduction program.” And what are her future plans? “I’m not sure,” she says, “But I won’t be sitting still. There are things in life I still want to accomplish.”
So who will be replacing Watts? So far, three prominent Surrey politicians have stated they will run for mayor. One is current councillor Linda Hepner and the former mayor, Doug McCallum and councillor Basinder Rasode.
Hepner has deep roots in the city of Surrey, was the staff manager for the city for 21 years and has served as a councillor for the past nine years. “My top focus is to move forward with a viable transportation system. Surrey is bigger than Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby and we have to move people and products quickly and efficiently and we need to establish a light rail system through out the region.” She’s also quick to point out that she’s adamant to preserve farmland and parks. “One-third of the city is dedicated to parks and the ALR.”
Another one of her top initiatives is to create safe communities. “Because we’re growing so quickly, intelligent policing becomes critical. We have to create policies that give police the tools to be more effective. As well, I want to organize a Citizens Consultative Committee to get immediate feedback from residents when it comes to crime reduction.” Hepner would also focus on smart growth and investment. “We’ve created 15,000 new businesses in the past nine years, 20 percent of which are in construction or the trades and with the city continuing its rapid growth, this will not slow down anytime soon. We need to establish density in some corridors that make the most sense.”
Former mayor Doug McCallum served the city as a councillor from 1993 to 1996 and then as a 3 term mayor from 1996 to 2005. He says his number one issue is public safety. “Over the past few years, I’ve seen councils fall asleep and have not been reacting to the problems that have occurred.” He adds, “the people I’ve talked to don’t feel safe in much of the city so the security of residents will be at the top of my campaign.” McCallum says he would also put more police boots on the ground. “If I’m elected, I will get many more officers on the ground, on bikes and in cars patrolling the city, especially those areas that have high-crime.” He likes the ‘broken window theory’ in New York City where the mayor focused on the areas that had a high criminal presence. “They were able to clean up the city and that’s what I will do in Surrey. The drug houses have to be closed down because they affect whole neighbourhoods and bring gangs into those areas.”
McCallum says he’ll also encourage citizens to help be the eyes of police through Block Watch programs. He says another issue that has been highlighted is that of illegal, multi-suited houses. “I will get five new by-law officers in each of the next five years to inspect homes to make sure that they only have one legal suite.” McCallum also wonders why the city is competing with private developers. “I would cancel the Surrey Development Corporation which is costing a lot of taxpayers money. The city should not be doing the work of the private sector.” He would also deep-six the Economic Summit. “This costs us a fortune, bringing in high-dollar people to speak at these events. We already have a really good process in place to bring attention to the city.”
Another high-profile Surrey councillor is pondering her decision to run for mayor.
Barinder Rasode was elected to council in 2008 and this is her second term. She says, “being the mother of three kids and close to aging parents makes me a big advocate of quality of life. We’re very fortunate to be living in Surrey.” She wants to make Surrey an even better place to live. “We have the largest industrial land base in the lower mainland with two important ports of entry so we can manage our resources, growth and social prosperity in a vibrant and affordable way,” she says. “Job creation is vital and I think it’s time the city looked at establishing an economic manager of investment to see what the needs are and to see how it would benefit our citizens.” She’s established the Surrey Online Community Hub program to get citizen input into how the city should evolve.
And in respect to the city’s booming influx of new residents, Rasode has plans to keep people safe. “I’m advocating for a second tier of community policing with neighbourhood watch programs and involvement in local schools. As mayor, I would have this implemented in my first 90 days in office.” With real estate values rising in the lower mainland, she would let that market dictate itself. “It’s not up to council to interfere with land values. I’m also a proponent of the LRT throughout Surrey and we can encourage the building of high-density, affordable living areas so people can access their work quickly and efficiently.” Rasode says she’s getting a lot of encouragement from people in the city to run for mayor. “I’m overwhelmingly humbled by the support I’m getting and will make a decision soon.”
So what do local residents think? DARPAN Magazine took to the streets of Surrey and got the following responses. Krish Rattan, a 20+ young man who works in marketing which takes him to several job sites in the region. He says, “the businesses here should hire more locals. I’ve been trying to find a job in a bank but nobody’s hiring. Employment opportunities here in Surrey should be improved because I have friends who have to drive to Vancouver to work.” He’s currently renting but would like to eventually own his own house. “I’m trying to save a down payment for maybe a condo and then hopefully a family home.” And he laughs, “Can they lower gasoline prices?”
Retired carpenter Vinco Macan has lived in Surrey for 10 years and is concerned about the issue of crime. “I don’t think anybody can clean it up. There’s so much happening each night. Although I do feel safe in my own home and I’d like to stay here for the rest of my life”. But he feels he pays too many taxes. “I’d like to see them reduced. I’m sure everybody would like that.”
Manly Cochrane works with Fraser Health and says he’s lived in Surrey all his life. “In respect to crime, it’s gone up because there are so many people moving in. They can’t keep up with all problems associated with it. It feels like downtown Vancouver at times. I’d like to see the new mayor make the streets safer.” Cochrane would like to stay in Surrey and raise a child in the community but the cost of real estate may make that decision for him. “I’m renting right now and would love to buy a home but the prices are staggering and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford a place here.”
Will this fall’s election spike some interest for Surrey voters? Recent voter apathy has dropped the percentage of municipal voters over the past several elections and it will be interesting to see if there will be an upswing in interest with a new mayor being elected. It could be an exciting local election. The BC municipal elections in Surrey will be held on November 15, 2014. Eligible Surrey voters will elect one mayor, eight councillors and six school trustees. Residents who want to run for office must sign their nomination papers from 9 am September 30 to 4 pm October 10, 2014. Once the documents have been accepted by city staff and officially signed, their names will be on the ballot.
We opened on a musical theme so it’s only proper to close on one. Perhaps a fitting tune would be the Beatles hit Hello, Goodbye from the iconic late-1960’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Album.
The title however, would be transposed to read “Goodbye (Mayor Diane Watts), Hello Mayor(___________)” You get to fill in the blank.