SURREY â€” Doug McCallum says if he’s elected mayor of Surrey in November city council members will no longer be allowed to travel overseas on the taxpayers’ dime.
"There won’t be any overseas travel at all, period," said McCallum, who served as Surrey’s mayor from 1996 to 2005. He is leading the Safe Surrey Coalition in this current elections race.
"Surrey wants us to solve our problems in Surrey and not jaunt around the world," McCallum said.
He also vows to ban council members from taxpayer-funded travel outside of B.C. "unless it’s an emergency – and then it will have to be debated and approved in open council."
But rival mayoralty candidate Linda Hepner, leader of the Surrey First coalition, said shutting down council travel would be a "backward" move and the "quickest way to go from being a powerhouse to a punchline."
"To say he’d shut that down I think in true form would be going backwards, not forward," Hepner said.
"It is overlooking the fact that we are in a global market."
Hepner, first elected as a city councillor in 2005, was chosen by Surrey First to run for mayor after Dianne Watts decided not to seek re-election.
During Watts’ nine years as mayor – the same number of years McCallum served before she roundly defeated him at the polls in 2005 – city council members and staff have traveled to places such as Israel, Ottawa, New York, Italy, Puerto Rico, England, Columbia, China and India at taxpayers’ expense.
"We are prospering from those," Hepburn said.
Some examples of traveling during Watts’ mayoralty include Watts and two city staff members heading on a week-long trade mission to Israel last December to see Surrey partner with Israel Brain Technologies to strengthen the city’s Innovation Boulevard in Whalley. The trip cost taxpayers $27,000.
Earlier in 2013, Watts and councillor Tom Gill made an $11,000 trip to Columbia in a bid to bring an international softball competition to Surrey.
In 2012 Watts, Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis, Surrey RCMP Chief Supt. Bill Fordy and criminologists Dr. Irwin Cohen and Jimmy Dhaliwal flew to New York, and then to Puerto Rico where they stayed at the five-star beachfront Ritz-Carlton in San Juan on a trip to learn more about CCTV surveillance cameras. The tab was $17,875.38.
In 2011 Watts, councillors Hepner, Tom Gill, Barinder Rasode and three city staff members, accompanied by representatives from 24 Surrey-based companies, went on a 12-day trade mission to India that cost Surrey taxpayers $128,000.
In 2008 Watts, Hepner and a city staffer went on a trade mission to Surrey’s sister cities Zhuhai and Ningbo, paid for by the provincial and federal governments.
In 2006 Watts, Hepner and a city staffer traveled to Torino, Italy, on a budget of $30,000 to see how the Olympics games and events were being run there, prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics in this province.
Hepner was Surrey’s manager of economic development, under McCallum’s mayoralty, before she was elected to council in 2005.
"He did lots of travel," Hepner said of McCallum. "I think he’s got a record from my perspective that was not productive related to foreign travel."
Hepner said McCallum did a business trip to Sweden with his wife but McCallum rejoined that that particular trip was on his "own time."
The Now reported in 2005 that mayor McCallum and Umendra Mital, the city manager at that time, visited Zhuhai and Taicang in China, and three cities in the state of Punjab in India.
"I think a lot of that was paid by different corporations," McCallum said Friday. In 2005 the Now reported that the hosts would likely pay for meals and accommodations while taxpayers would pay for airfare and other travel expenses.
In 1999, McCallum went on a trade mission to Ningbo, China to sign a friendship agreement on Surrey’s behalf. He told the media at the time that he agreed to make the weeklong trip only after being assured that business people – and not taxpayers – would pay for it.
In 1997 McCallum traveled to Ottawa to accept a race-relations award.
"Over the nine years I didn’t do much overseas travel," McCallum said Friday.
"I have come to the conclusion from that time we won’t anymore. I don’t think it’s worth it to do any overseas traveling."