When the Surrey First slate unanimously swept into power last October I think it took many a political observer by surprise.
After all, the race had seemed close up until that point, and both Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition and Barinder Rasode’s One Surrey party had been hammering the incumbents on their track record in dealing with crime.
This reporter penned a column prior to voting day which stated simply, and for the record, that if we’re being honest about things, then we have to acknowledge that crime actually declined under Mayor Dianne Watts.
In the end, I think Surrey First was elected for familiar reasons. To borrow a line from the ’90s, it’s the economy, stupid.
While the other slates focused heavily on crime, Surrey First kept up a positive message that looked at the growing business and employment opportunities in one of the fastest growing cities in the country. It’s a lesson they likely borrowed from the federal Conservatives, who learned fairly early on that jobs creation trumps all other concerns on the political radar.
But although it’s one thing for our political leaders not to succumb to a climate of fear, it’s quite another to ignore the perils faced by residents on a daily basis.
During the series of recent shootings that made Metro Vancouver headlines, Mayor Linda Hepner was neither seen nor heard from unless it was to talk about the importance of the plebiscite vote. A similar silence was deafening last December, during which time three young people were murdered in our city.
Some have taken to suggesting Hepner doesn’t care or doesn’t pay attention to crime in Surrey. It doesn’t help that she made an infamous gaffe on CBC television during the mayoral debates when she stated bluntly, "There is nothing wrong with the City of Surrey."
But I’ve actually spoken privately to Hepner about crime and murder in Surrey and I don’t think she actually believes it’s so black and white. While I would never betray somebody’s confidence when told something off the record, I will say that I wish Hepner would talk as candidly about her feelings to the public as she did to me.
It would be nice to see the mayor of this city stand up, acknowledge that there are terrible crimes that take place, and assure the people that steps are being taken to stop them from happening.
I understand that politicking can be a balancing act. If you make crime and violence the focal point of your speeches, you run the risk that former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani did after the 2001 terrorist attacks and become a cliche. On the flip side of the coin, saying nothing about crime can make one seem like former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. A person oblivious or in denial of the reality faced by everybody else.
It wouldn’t be difficult for Surrey First to drop the public relations campaign for five minutes and level with the people. After all, it’s more than three and a half years until the next municipal election, so there’s no political capital to be lost, and much that could be gained.
The expression "A little good will goes a long way" stands. By showing support and empathy for victims of crime in Surrey, Hepner would probably earn a lot of support for other issues she’s trying to get people to buy into, such as the transit plebiscite.
People don’t really need much from their leaders. We just want to know that they’re listening, they’re understanding and they’ve got our backs.
Let’s show a little leadership, Madam Mayor.
Adrian MacNair can be reached by email at email@example.com