A besieged Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum delivered his 2022 State of the City Address before a full house on Wednesday morning at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.
He shared his vision for Surrey’s future, discussing city policy and the approval of more than 20 capital projects during his term so far. New construction cranes, he said, are “continually popping up throughout the city.”
He later told reporters his speaking event was “one of the most well-attended” state of the city addresses “in the history of Surrey.” There were no protesters or hecklers inside or outside the hotel.
The Surrey-Langley SkyTrain expansion, he said, when completed will be the first rapid transit project Surrey has seen in 28 years. In 2021, he said, Surrey “led the way” in Metro Vancouver for housing starts. “Housing starts totalled over 5,800 units last year, which is six per cent more than Vancouver.”
“With what this council has accomplished, Surrey has rightfully taken a seat among the major cities of Canada,” McCallum said. “But the work is not done. There are new heights to be reached and we are only just beginning.”
McCallum told the audience about his “favourite thing” in Surrey: “It’s the people.” He noted the city’s population grew by nearly 10 per cent between 2016 and 2021, “which is the fifth-highest growth rate in all of Canada during this period.”
Despite two challenging years of pandemic, he said, there’s been a “surge in businesses setting up shop in Surrey” with 1,500 opening, bringing the total to 21,000 businesses operating in Surrey, all told.
“The days of when Surrey was a feeder community have fallen by the wayside.”
McCallum told his audience the number of products and initiatives the city has launched on his watch “are numerous, and I am especially proud to say that we have been able to do this without raising property taxes. For four straight years, council has kept the residential property tax at 2.9 per cent.”
As the transition to the Surrey Police Service from the Surrey RCMP continues, McCallum said, 295 SPS officers will be policing Surrey’s streets within 12 months. Currently 85 uniformed SPS officers have been deployed.
“A transition of this magnitude has never in Canadian history been done,” he said. “But it was time for a city closing in on a population of 600,000 people to have its own police service. The rationale for the switch is to bring governance, accountability and decision-making to the local level.”
McCallum intends to seek a second consecutive term in office as the Oct. 15 civic election approaches. He will go to trial on a criminal charge of public mischief on Oct. 31, two weeks after the election.
“There has been no shortage of critics, doubters and naysayers,” he said. “I have always said you need to have a thick skin to do this job.”
During a press scrum after his speech, McCallum said he expects a “calm” council meeting for Wednesday night with added security following the collapse of Monday’s council meeting where hecklers called on him to resign.
“I want to have open council meetings, we don’t want them closed,” he said. “People need to respect each other, people need to listen to each other.”
He reiterated he will not step down while his criminal case makes its way through court. “I will not,” he said. “I think a lot of it is political, we’re in election time now. I will not step down.”
Asked by a reporter if he doesn’t think the demonstrations and “what is happening” at city hall is giving a “black eye” to Surrey and is tarnishing its reputation, McCallum replied “I think it’s part of any big city around the world, to be honest with you.
“People have differences of opinion – I respect that. We need to listen to those people.”
He added, “Let’s just listen to each other, we can learn a lot.”
Asked if he thinks he enjoys public support from Surreyites, McCallum replied “Yes, I do. I have seen tremendous support in the last couple of weeks – huge support. Never seen that kind in my 15 years being mayor, so yes there is tremendous support.”
McCallum served as Surrey’s mayor from 1996 to 2005 before being elected again in 2018.
Meantime, Coun. Brenda Locke said her biggest hope coming out of the state of the city address is the Oct. 15 election.
“I think that for the majority of the people that I talk to — obviously this mayor talks to a different cohort than I do, a different neighborhood — I don’t see a lot of support for this mayor at all. I know in any polling I’ve seen, there is no support for this mayor and his team, actually.”
Locke said she does “agree with the mayor (that) Surrey is an amazing city” that has “amazing” opportunities.
“I think if the mayor was doing his job right now, he would do the right thing, step aside and let this happen. Let the city do the work it needs to do,” Locke said.
Coun. Annis said she was “a bit disappointed” with some of the mayor’s comments in his address and that McCallum’s charge and upcoming trial is “a huge distraction” for council and residents.
“I’m certainly not calling for his resignation but I do think he needs to step aside so we can get on with business.”
Annis added the address didn’t give her hope for the city’s future, adding he “took credit for many of the projects” that former mayors Linda Hepner and Dianne Watts and their councils started.
“He talked about what the next four years are going to look like and I don’t see anything other than the SkyTrain that is really something that will be moving forward,” she noted.
“Yes, he talked about the police force, but here we are three-and-a-half years into it and we’ve got less than 90 members that are actually on the road now. That’s a far cry from the 803 that will be (needed) when they’re in full operation.”
But Coun. Laurie Guerra said she thought the address was “fantastic.”
“I loved the fact that he talked about how we made promises four years ago and we’ve kept those promises. The bottom line, for me, is that, just that.”