The torch has officially been passed from Dianne Watts to Linda Hepner, as Surrey voters elected the former mayor’s chosen replacement. We sat down with Hepner days before election day to talk about her future as the city’s leader.
How would you describe this election?
"I think this election has certainly had more engagement from the community because I think when you’re changing mayors and many councillor seats, that creates more engagement. We’ve seen a lot more community interest than in the past two elections, at least. But I also think that there’s been a lot of – you always expect political rhetoric, you always know you’re going to hear rhetoric, but I think this one has been more destructive than I have seen in the past couple – one-trick ponies."
What were the highs and lows of the election for you?
"I think the high has been community engagement and just talking with the residents of the City of Surrey. That’s been the high for me. The low has been when you don’t have enough time in interviews or in debates to really define, in a broad way, the vision that you have because you’re caught up. There just isn’t enough time to do that. That, for me, has been a low because when I hear the city being trashed I really want to respond in a different format – all great cities are a work in progress…. Trashing the city is never a way to get a good outcome. I would prefer a discussion that was more positive to our residents and more positive to the pride we’ve built in the transformation over the past nine years and constructive in solutions as opposed to destructive in fear mongering."
What are the first three things you will do as mayor?
"Public safety. I would ensure the hiring was concluded for the general manager of public safety. I would make sure that we have made the ask for the officers provincially and federally. And I want to have our business case done and ready to go relative to the light rail. I have made a commitment that in 2018 we will have light rail in this city. I now need to back that up in terms of sitting down with the city manager and say, ‘What does that mean for what stages we need to be at in order to accomplish that – design for stations, readying ourselves for the referendum?’ But then I need all the background work done and business work done if we’re going out for the public piece, if the referendum doesn’t go our way, I want all that prep work done."
What are your longer-term goals?
"Phase two of the light rail transit – completing that. And I will be excited to see
each of the town centres to have the kind of energy that we have now established within the City Centre. So I want to see a different face in the Newton downtown…. I think Cloverdale has such a special gift for its street – it could be our Robson Street with little boutique shops, and the fairgrounds. I’d like to see a stadium, I’d like to see the performing arts. Longer-term vision, now we’re really talking urban development and the kind of energy you would expect around a growing urban city. I’d also like to see a waterfront development – something done nicely in that area."
What do you hope your legacy will be as mayor?
"I hope that people will look at the city and say that I have advanced arts and culture in the city and that I have made the city connected. That I have brought all those pieces that we started, and brought that puzzle together into creating a connected city. That’s what I hope my legacy would be, that people would say, ‘Wow, we are now together.’ We’ve got great sports fields, we’ve got great sporting opportunities, we have great arts and culture, and I can get on either a fast bus or a train and I can get to all these places. And I can have a little bit of nightlife if I want it in my own city. So I could walk to our public square and there’s little outside cafes and energy around that. I would feel I had done a good job if I could have that end result."
What are the single best and worst things about the City of Surrey right now?
"I think the best is that we come together so often in celebration. So I’m going to pick the residents because I think they love what we do when we’re doing a Fusion Festival or a Canada Day celebration. There’s such a sense of community around that. And I think that’s the best of Surrey. And they’re well behaved. We can get 50,000 people together and everybody’s having a good time and to me, that is reflective of the best that we are. The worst? Well I’ll tell you what makes me the maddest is when I see unkempt properties on the front page of a paper…. I don’t like seeing the escalating problems around empty properties or properties that are nuisance properties. We’ve developed a new bylaw around nuisance properties and it’s certainly gotten tighter but there are places in the city that are waiting to get developed that I think need a program of better care around how to handle them. They’re just eyesores. I don’t like that."
When you’re not running the city, what will people find you doing?
"I’d be out playing road hockey and spending time with the kids. I’d also be doing a lot of walking because I enjoy doing that and exploring Surrey through our parks. And then just spending time with friends."
Surrey First’s $21-million crime platform promises 147 new police officers over two years.
Hepner promises to hire a general manager of public safety and to appoint a "citizen advocate" for each district of the city to act as a liaison between the public and police.
Hepner commits to completion of phase one of light rail in Surrey by 2018. Phase one includes a 10-kilometre line connecting Surrey City Centre to Guildford along 104th Avenue, and connecting City Centre to Newton along King George