Crime, transportation among dominant ‘If’
It is the 12th most populated city in Canada and, as the Oct. 20 municipal election nears, Surrey is certainly having its share of big city issues. But when it comes to sparring topics for the eight people looking to ascend to the mayor’s chair, there are two that stand out above all others. “Surrey has some additional issues and challenges that maybe make it stand a bit apart (from the rest of the Lower Mainland) and one of them is the unravelling of the transportation options,” says Patrick Smith, a professor in the political science department at Simon Fraser University. It’s not that surprising in a city where eight in 10 commute by car or truck for an average of 33 minutes. Smith acknowledges a large number of people continue to see housing affordability as a major concern across the region, but points out that isn’t unique to Surrey. The second issue in the city with a population of around 517,000 is nothing new: “The other one (concern) that Surrey has had a particular interest in and experience of is gangs and crime,” says Smith. Surrey is often associated with violent crime. Long an advocate for better more and better policing, former Newton Community Association president Doug Elford is now seeking a seat on council alongside former mayor Doug McCallum. “Surrey has the largest RCMP under contract arrangement in Canada, and yet you’ve got major players in the election musing about having their own police force,” says Smith. The fact it is and remains such a hot-button issue doesn’t surprise the veteran political scientist. He says it’s an easy thing to campaign for it, but a much more difficult — and above all, expensive — proposition to implement on a practical level. Incorporated as a city back in 1993, Surrey has often been viewed as the poor cousin when it comes to transit and transportation, and a lack of growth — the last SkyTrain station in that city opened 24 years ago — is just one of the reasons people there take any talk of expansion so seriously. “We’ve had ceremonies indicating an agreement by all levels of government on an LRT and now we have major candidates who are saying ‘No, SkyTrain is the preferred option.’” Current councillor Bruce Hayne is among those who have said publicly they want to “push pause” on any LRT work. But such an election promise could prove dangerous if it’s followed through on. “You don’t stop something that you’re well along in and have secure funding for. And you can look at Ottawa and Toronto as examples of what happens when you do that, you get less and you pay more. Those who want to change gears in Surrey’s transportation future with the LRT, have to explain how they justify getting less and paying more over the long run,” says Anthony Perl, a political science colleague of Smith’s who also teaches Urban Studies at SFU. “When they stop it (LRT), there will be penalties and costs that have already been spent that have to be committed and you don’t get anything to show for it. Stopping projects that are already well planned and funded along the way, the evidence is clear in Canada that just gets you less and costs more. And I really hope that Surrey won’t fall into that.” Other than Hayne, Tom Gill is the other current councillor looking to replace Linda Hepner after the 69-year-old decided not to seek re-election. Meanwhile, McCallum is looking to once again enter the political fray after more than a decade on the sidelines. McCallum, who lost to Dianne Watts in 2005, came in second to Hepner four years ago. But it’s Gill, running under the Surrey First banner, who at least appears to be in line to become the 37th mayor in the city’s history, according to Smith. “In the last couple of elections, if there was one thing that would be the best predictor of peoples’ likelihood to win, it was whether they were an incumbent or not. And that has changed.” “I would have to think that Gill is perhaps the front runner in the Surrey race. He’s got council experience. The parties are splintering a little but he’s got the main party that has been in power for the last bunch of years, with their endorsement, so I would think he would perhaps be the front runner,” says Smith. When she was elected in 2014, Hepner pledged to break ground on an LRT line in the city by this year, which hasn’t happened. But for her part, she does hope that whoever wins puts progress at the top of the list. “I just want the next council for Surrey to be as focused on visioning what the future will look like and how a great city develops,” says Hepner. “That’s the kind of vision I would hope that council has. We can do anything and we need the minds that are energetic enough and visionary enough to see all of that is possible.” Voters in Surrey are electing one mayor, eight councillors, and six school trustees.