Housing issues, environmental concerns and development were the main topics discussed by Surrey mayoral candidates during a forum on the north side of the city Wednesday (Sept. 7) evening.
Gathered at Cari-Can Heritage Society (13565 King George Blvd.) was a crowd of roughly 100 people who heard from five of the seven candidates vying to become the next mayor of the second-largest city in B.C.
Brenda Locke (Surrey Connect), Gordie Hogg (Surrey First), Jinny Sims (Surrey Forward), Amrit Birring (People’s Council) and Kuldip Pelia (Independent) attended the “all-candidates” forum, co-hosted by We Belong Surrey and Seeds of Change Surrey.
Sukh Dhaliwal (United Surrey) seemingly planned to have his council candidate Jasbir Sandhu step in for him — judging by a name-tag present on the table — but no one from United Surrey was present.
Each candidates was provided with a list of questions that would be asked at the forum and given 90 seconds to answer each question, in addition to opening and closing statements.
On the topic of housing, most candidates expressed their support for more rental buildings.
“We also can work with developers and say, ‘If you are building a five-storey unit, you can maybe have eight-storeys but then 25 per cent of that should be below market and some of it well below market,” Sims said.
Locke, meanwhile, said she is looking to reverse some of the steps taken during her current term as councillor, which she began as a member of Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coaliton (SSC).
“Surrey Connect, first of all, is going to prioritize the Harmony apartments in South Surrey. It’s absolutely shameful that that project never went ahead,” she said.
The Harmony project — a plan proposed by UNITI (one of the Wednesday forum’s presenting partners) to develop inclusive housing in South Surrey — was defeated in July 2021 in a 5-3 vote, with Locke, Couns. Steven Pettigrew and Jack Hundial in favour of moving it forward.
Drawing a few head-shakes, and even a ‘boo,’ was a statement from Birring on how he would tackle climate change, if elected.
“If you look at the history of Earth for 2,000 years, you will find that at various times, hot spells came and cold spells came. So I do not agree that climate change is real. It’s a fear propaganda… Using fear and control, they want to make your life miserable,” he said.
Every other candidate took the opposite stance, stating that climate change is a prevalent issue that needs to be addressed immediately by the city.
“I will have committees for everything… and then we will create projects and those projects will be funded by the federal government, plus with the provincial government’s help,” Pelia said of his plan.
Hogg explained his approach to development in Surrey would involve, “a five-year rolling plan, an OCP, Official Community Plan, that actually rolls, it’s not just a five-year but after one year, you look at the next year. So there’s always five years into the future… so you’re always looking at what’s needed,” he said.
Hogg also plans to bring back the Surrey City Development Corporation — a for-profit development company that was owned by the City and was dissolved in June 2020 by McCallum — which he said provided beneficial development to the city.
Pelia described himself as a supporter of better transit systems, not just within the city, but also extending to other parts of the Lower Mainland to incentivize people to ditch their cars more frequently.
He proposed a rapid bus from Surrey to UBC to lessen the burden that students of the Vancouver-campus bear during their commute from home to school and back – a suggestion which was supported by Birring.
We Belong Surrey is made up of several “pillar partners,” including the Surrey Board of Trade, Alexandra Neighbourhood House, DiversCity, UNITI, Xba, Brella Community Services, Surrey Pride and PH2H.
The civic election will be on Saturday, Oct. 15 when Surrey residents will select a mayor, eight councillors and six school trustees.
PH2H stated that they will be posting the recording of the full meeting and a summary. Check their website for updates at www.ph2htaskforce.org/