A majority of councillor and mayoral hopefuls in the running for seats in Surrey turned out to an all-candidates meeting Monday at Rotary Field House, sponsored by Semiahmoo Residents Association.
And, by and large, they were singing the same song for about 200 South Surrey residents, in response to eight pre-submitted questions at the meeting, moderated by Surrey Now publisher Gary Hollick.
Most agreed density should be kept down, highrises avoided and casinos are out. And they largely spoke as one in endorsing the notion that railway tracks should be gone from the beaches, and that no additional property taxes should go to TransLink.
The only major division appeared to be in the philosophy of reducing crime, with some candidates favouring adding more police as a main solution, and others arguing for crime-reduction strategies through social programs.
Mayoral candidates present were Doug McCallum (Safe Surrey Coalition), Barinder Rasode (One Surrey) and independents John Edwards, Grant Rice and John Wolanski. Linda Hepner (Surrey First) did not attend. Councillor hopefuls present included One Surrey’s Maz Artang, Merv Bayda, Mike Bose, Darlene Bowyer, Kal Dosanjh and Brian Young; Safe Surrey’s Justin Thind, Laurie Guerra, Beau Simpson and Rina Gill; Surrey First’s Vera LeFranc, Mike Starchuk, Dave Woods and Judy Villeneuve; Team Surrey’s Brenda Locke and Stephen Gammer; and independents Saira Aujla, Cliff Blair, Nav Dhanoya, Shawn Francis, Touraj Ghanbar-Zadeh, Martin Rooney and Rick Scorsese.
On the crime issue, many candidates said a call for more police is an indication of the will of the public.
“Even the RCMP want to see more RCMP,” Guerra said.
Others said more attention needs to be paid to providing programs for youth and addicts and others at risk of falling into a cycle of crime.
“As an ex-RCMP officer, I say you do need more police officers,” said Woods. “But you have to look at the underlying issues… if you send people to jail for two years, all they’re going to do is go to jail and network.”
Dosanjh also cited his experience in law enforcement.
“I spent time in the Downtown Eastside… it was not more police that kept kids off the streets, it was care and compassion,” he said.
Candidates agreed that density in the Semiahmoo Town Centre needs to be reviewed, particularly since infrastructure is not keeping pace with rise in population.
There seemed to be a general sense that a maximum density has been reached in most South Surrey neighbourhoods, that more highrises are not needed in the town centre and that further urban sprawl needs to be discouraged in favour of sustainable growth.
“We’ve developed all the land west of the freeway – it’s finished,” McCallum said. “We won’t support any more… infill should be no higher than four storeys.”
Rasode said the recent proposal to build two highrise towers at 152 Street at 19 Avenue, which would incorporate a theatre and arts component, is “a perfect example of how we need to do a better job.” She said there should not be a condition of “having arts and cultural space, only if you get something you don’t want in your neighbourhood.”
But candidates were divided on the notion that the Grandview area has become, de facto, the true commercial centre of South Surrey.
While many said they saw it as a reality that must be acknowledged, incumbent Villeneuve said development should continue to be encouraged to support established town centres such as Semiahmoo – “If businesses are leaving (the city cores) as other areas develop, then the (cores) become unhealthy.”
Edwards said “some density is needed to keep (an area) in character – but we need to look at social housing as well.”
Candidates were almost united in rejecting the possibility of another casino proposal for South Surrey, citing social costs – although Dhanoya said the annual revenue to the city from a gaming facility, which he placed at around $7.5 million, could not be dismissed out of hand.
“We will have a tab of $33 million if we have more police officers and the money has to come from somewhere,” he said.
“I’m so proud of our community to so solidly reject the casino,” LeFranc said. “We can’t go back on that.”
While most candidates answered “yes” to supporting removal of train tracks from Crescent Beach, and “yes” to acquiring the rail corridor as a waterfront pathway, Rice drew laughs from the crowd with his answer “yes to the pipe dream.”
Elaborating, Rice noted that moving the tracks requires federal, provincial and municipal agreement as well as the co-operation of BNSF and that other rail issues need to be addressed sooner.
“We need to stop the coal ports – we need to do something about that,” he said, adding he was also concerned about upgrading the “106-year-old” trestle bridge on the Little Campbell River.