SURREY â€” Surrey mayoral candidates met for the city’s first all-candidates meeting Thursday night at SFU.
Six of the seven candidates turned out to answer questions, posed by the Downtown Surrey BIA and the audience. Only independent Vikram Bajwa was absent.
Surrey First’s Linda Hepner said in her opening statement that this election "comes at a crucial crossroads for Surrey."
"I was appalled at the jokes that we used to hear about Surrey," she said. "It seems not long ago. Those were dark days."
Hepner referenced a Fraser Institute report that shows Surrey has the lowest taxes and lowest per capita spending of 17 Metro Vancouver municipalities.
Former mayor McCallum with the Safe Surrey Coalition spoke of the city’s financial outlook, saying he left the city with no debt and today it has much.
Independent mayoral candidate Grant Rice, said the development community has backed municipal politicians over the years and the opportunity for individuals to run grassroots campaigns are "almost null."
"What I’m hoping to do is seize back the city from the developers," he said.
One Surrey leader Barinder Rasode said she is committed to making tough decisions.
Rasode claims she has the "only comprehensive crime plan" that can be "implemented immediately.
Independent John Edwards said the city needs police on the streets now, and noted change at the council table is required.
"Why vote for the same people who’ve had the opportunity to change the situation?"
He promised to focus on youth and the mentally ill, and wants to establish a convention centre in Cloverdale to "internationalize" Surrey.
John Wolanski, another independent candidate, opened by speaking in favour of a ward system for the city and called for a new ice rink and pool in Cloverdale.
He spoke of the need to address social issues, and likened walking down King George Boulevard in Whalley to walking around a warzone in the Middle East.
HOW CAN YOU PROMISE POLICE QUICKLY?
Candidates were asked how they would quickly bring officers to Surrey, knowing it takes up to 18 months to fill those spots.
Rice, who hasn’t made such a commitment, asked if RCMP was the right model for a city of Surrey’s size. He noted the region’s many police detachments, and suggested a regional model may work better.
Rasode said her plan can be put into play right away, involving community safety officers that can be trained quickly.
Edwards said the city can’t wait years for more police and suggested bringing back retired officers to speed up the process.
Wolanski said the RCMP doesn’t have a board of directors. "We have a group of people that answers to Ottawa," noting the confidence in Delta’s police detachment and it being a localized operation.
Hepner promises to bring on new officers in the shortest time possible, and said some officers can be transferred, instead of all the new officers being new recruits. She also noted the 20 community safety officers the city hired.
McCallum said he’s talked to the chief of police and has been told the contract with the RCMP allows the city to have requested officers on the ground within 12 months.
CITY CENTRE GROWTH
Rasode said she would continue to support growth in City Centre, but said she hears the tower projects will be stalled unless the city gets a grip on public safety. She’s been told the tower owners pay high prices for additional security, and said the plan should move forward but the city should do a better job.
Edwards is impressed with the development in the area but is concerned about the level of homelessness and drugs and addicts in the area. He wants a safe injection site and to get people off the streets.
"Why can’t we develop social housing in that area?" he asked, adding longtime street people are being pushed out, ending up in Newton or elsewhere. "We’re not solving the problem."
Wolanski said he’d like to see lower towers in the area, noting they block out the sun and create a cold environment.
Hepner said City Centre used to look like a strip mall and wants to continue with the momentum toward building a regional urban centre.
McCallum claimed he’s been told many projects in the area are on hold because developers are in competition with SCDC.
Rice noted the area past 104th Avenue is neglected. "It makes me shutter to think how we botched this…. It’s great doing these beautiful towers, but what are we going to do about the people living here now?"
Candidates all spoke of the need for better transit.
Hepner said if she’s elected, she promises to have phase one of a light rail system implemented by 2018 connecting Guildford, City Centre and Newton.
Rasode, also an LRT supporter, noted the importance of connecting town centres in Surrey.
Asked how he would ensure Surrey gets its fair share of infrastructure funding from higher levels of government, Wolanski – also in favour of a light rail system – said transit funding should go where the population is and where population is most able to use it.
McCallum spoke of the importance of bringing new uses – particularly community buses – to Surrey. He also said the city’s roads are "disintegrating" and need to be dealt with.
Rice, a regular SkyTrain rider himself, is not against that method of transit. He noted the challenges of trying to get around Surrey by bus, particularly in the evening. "We need more buses now," he said.
The City of Surrey has yet to find a location for a purpose-built shelter. Land must be found and zoned as soon as possible to ensure Surrey receives the provincial funding.
Asked how she would ensure Surrey gets that funding, Rasode acknowledged the city has been "struggling" with where it will go.
She said it needs to be absorbed into the community without having a negative impact on businesses.
Hepner believes the city is in a good spot to find a shelter location.
"We’ve already determined a couple of sites close to the hospital precinct that would be available…. Moving forward on one or the other of those is really, I think, where the answer lies."
NORTH SURREY REC CENTRE
All of the candidates were asked what they would do with the North Surrey rec centre and where they would relocate it to.
Wolanski said there’s area to the north that could be utilized, but was worried of issues surrounding gentrification and the need to be careful of how people are pushed out without adequate housing stock.
Edwards said he would consult with the community to determine what to do with the facility, and also emphasized the importance of investing in recreational programming in youth. He was also concerned about gentrification in the area.
Hepner said that project is "next on the list in terms of building the city," adding she wants to find a new location.
She said it’s an important site in terms of the city’s development around the "nucleus" of the town centre. Hepner said she will look for a new site in partnership with SFU.
McCallum said if elected, he will look at the city’s parks and recreation capital plan, which he believes has been neglected. He thinks the facility should be located and should stay in the north areas of the city.
Rice doesn’t believe it’s ready to be torn down, but acknowledged a location should be found. He believes there were too many cuts during McCallum’s reign.
Rasode noted the importance of sports and recreation in keeping youth on a good path and said increased opportunities for affordable recreation is "crucial." She said North Surrey is number one on the priority list.
The candidates were all asked questions about affordable housing.
Hepner said she supports affordable housing through SCDC, through the homelessness and housing fund, as well as through partnersips in the community.
McCallum said he would put encourage affordable housing in new developments.
Rice would like to see developments include affordable housing components, particularly in Whalley.
Rasode said more rental stock is needed and would encourage rental units, and rent-to-own opportunities. She also wants the city to hold absentee landlords to account.
John Edwards was in favour of mandatory inclusionary zoning and Wolanski called for the federal and provincial governments to stop downloading to cities on this front.