SURREY â€” As with elections past, the issue of wards coming to Surrey has once again captured the interest of the public and politicians alike.
Currently, just one municipality in B.C. uses wards (Lake Country, in the Okanagan region), and if Surrey decides to implement the system, it would need provincial approval.
So with residents in some neighbourhoods not feeling adequately represented at the council table, we went to the seven mayoral candidates to see what they would do regarding wards in Surrey.
Candidate Vikram Bajwa said if elected, he would immediately begin working on adopting a resolution to introduce wards.
"If we had wards there wouldn’t have been such an increase in crime," said Bajwa.
Bajwa added that with a ward system, a councillor from Whalley, for example, would be responsible for keeping council and police informed about crime issues in that area.
"But because we don’t have a ward system nobody’s neck is on the line," he said.
John Edwards, on the other hand, would prefer to retain the at-large system currently in use.
According to Edwards, he hasn’t found any evidence that wards would benefit Surrey residents more than what’s currently in play, and may actually create a division at the council table.
"If anything, one piece of information I found was that if the wards were not managed properly and fairly, you can have one or two wards dominating the entire system," he said. "Each ward would get one vote but it doesn’t mean that two or three wards couldn’t cooperate and pass something else."
Rather, Edwards wants all of council to remain responsible to the city as a whole.
"We are paying them $66,000 a year as councillors and I don’t think we should pay a councillor the same wage to represent a place like Fleetwood that would have half the population of a place like Newton," he said.
Coun. Linda Hepner of Surrey First said it was "politically expedient" for candidates to be floating the idea of wards and noted the actual process would be more complicated than suggested.
"It’s not as simple as a political statement that that’s what they’re going to do," said Hepner. "It requires a whole lot more conversation, what the various options are and understanding what those costs will be, how you would define it."
Hepner said she would be in favour of beginning a dialogue with the community about wards in Surrey and then moving forward from there. That could include a non-binding referendum or other methods of outreach.
"Where I draw the line is being irresponsible by saying it’s going CI IC to happen this way without anybody understanding what that means," she said.
Former mayor Doug McCallum said if elected, he would immediately put a request for wards through to the province proposing to divide the city into four wards.
"Each ward would elect two councillors and the wards would be South Surrey, Newton, City Centre and part of Guildford and the fourth ward would be Fraser Heights to parts of Clayton," he explained. "Because Surrey is so geographically large, this gives better representation to parts like Port Kells and Tynehead."
McCallum said as it stands, there are parts of Surrey where residents don’t even know who to call about their issues.
"This would be a better communication process for people throughout Surrey," he said.
Looking to keep part of the current system Coun. Barinder Rasode said she would look at bringing in a hybrid wards system. What that would entail, explained the One Surrey candidate, would be to have four councillors still chosen with the at-large system, and the other four using wards.
"So those four would be chosen from north, south, east and west," said Rasode, who added she’s heard residents want change. "They’ve told me overwhelmingly that they feel our system needs to be more representative because they don’t feel connected to city hall."
Rasode said if there were any type of ward system in Surrey, the makeup of council candidates would likely look far different than it is today.
"There are people who are members of community associations who don’t run because their commitment and energy need to be focused on their neighbourhood," she said. "The reason that individuals are saying they need more representation is because there’s this feeling that most of Surrey council comes from a certain part of town."
Longtime council watcher Grant Rice said he is also in favour of a ward system for Surrey, but would instead like to see it based on the five federal ridings that would be in place next year.
"One bleeds into Langley a bit and one takes White Rock but with a few small adjustments we could use those five ridings and what we could do is elect two candidates per riding," he explained. "The other thing is you’re going to have to expand council from eight to 10 councillors, but Vancouver’s had 10 councillors for many years and it wouldn’t be a stretch to fit two more people at the council table."
Rice said due to Surrey’s size, it’s time to look at a expanding the number of roles at council and how those people positions are chosen.
"None of the big three (Hepner, McCallum, Rasode) have ever brought this to the table until this public outcry about Newton not being represented at the council table," he said. "It’s based on a reaction to a crisis rather than truly believing in a new system. They’ve had ample opportunity to make this happen or even open up discussion about it.
It’s a thing of convenience now as a policy platform for some of the other candidates."
Fellow candidate John Wolanski agreed with Rice.
Having been in favour of bringing wards to Surrey "since day one," Wolanski said there’s a reason the rest of Canada uses the system.
"It just works well," he said. "I’m from Winnipeg and we have 12 wards there and in Calgary they have 10 and it’s good."
Similar to Rice, Wolanski said he would like to have five wards with two councillors in each, or "seven wards and have two councillors in South Surrey and do the other six with one. Most residents have been wanting to see it."