Surrey’s eight are out of the gate.
The city’s mayoral campaign horse race galloped apace Wednesday night during an all-candidates meeting sponsored by the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association at Whalley’s new Civic Hotel, a short stroll from city hall and that coveted big-city mayor’s seat.
In the running for mayor are Tom Gill (Surrey First), Pauline Greaves (Proudly Surrey), Bruce Hayne (Integrity Now), Rajesh Jayaprakash (People First Surrey), Doug McCallum (Safe Surrey Coalition), Francois Nantel (Independent), Imtiaz Popat (Progressive Sustainable Surrey) and John Wolanski (Independent).
“Our first council meeting we will withdraw from the RCMP, and we will form our own Surrey police force,” McCallum said in his opening remarks, to a mostly full house. About 200 people attended the meeting.
Asked what his style of mayoring is, McCallum described it as “open door.
“I answered all of my phone calls,” the former mayor said of his nine years in office.
Popat took a poke at McCallum, saying, “The gang violence probably started when Doug McCallum was mayor.”
When Nantel was asked what the root of crime is, a woman in the back yelled out, “Inequality!”
— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) September 27, 2018
Greaves, the sole female mayoral candidate, said if elected her slate would move to set up a “South Fraser Police Department” through which the city would make sure it is “actually training the police force in all of the courses that they need, things like social work, criminology, psychology” and deploy police resources where needed.
“I’m running for mayor because I’m tired of 18 years of hearing the same thing,” she said. “Representation over this period of time requires leadership, and we had none.”
“Every day gets harder for working class families,” Greaves said. “Every day things get harder but the policies stay the same.
“It’s time for a Surrey that all families can afford.”
On the issue of affordable housing, Gill says it would have to be distributed throughout the city. “It’s a huge issue.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about youth and young families,” he said.
Well, no knockout punches at Surrey's mayoral all-candidates meeting at Whalley's Civic Hotel tonight. No eye-rolling, or nostril flaring….darn. #surreybc
— Tom Zytaruk (@tomzytaruk) September 27, 2018
Greaves said if elected her slate would bring in an empty house tax similar to Vancouver’s. She says too many residents leave Surrey for a long time with no contribution to the city or its budget.
Hayne disagrees, noting Surrey has a one per cent housing vacancy rate. “Empty houses is simply not the issue we have in this community,” he said. He says he would not get behind such a tax.
Nor would Gill, who argues that the city should focus instead on increasing housing supply.
One topic raised was public consultation versus public information sessions. Hayne says they’re not the same. “That’s what I’m about, collaboration,” he said, “so we get it right the first time.”
Gill admitted the city is “slipping” on dealing with the feedback it’s getting from residents.“Many times there’s misinformation that’s been circulated by certain groups,” he said.
Popat raised the matter of opposition to the city running a road through Hawthorne Park.
“Where was the consultation then?” he demanded, adding that the city’s current government “doesn’t listen.”
Gill, in his closing remarks, noted that he moved here in 1986, at a time when Surrey was a target for jokes. “We’re not that City any more,” he said. “Let’s be the best city in North America. We are different, we are unique.”
Hayne said simplistic answers to complex questions is something the residents of Surrey won’t be getting from Integrity Now.
Taking a poke at Gill’s call for a referendum on the future of the RCMP in this city, McCallum said there’s no need for a referendum as this election is the referendum. Popat agreed.
Greaves said city hall is currently “unaccountable.
“We absolutely need to do better,” she said.
McCallum said gridlock in this city is “getting worse every day.”
“Again, on our first council meeting we’re going to cancel the light rail project and we’re going to build SkyTrain from City Centre out through Fleetwood, Clayton into Langley and the second phase is going from the City Centre out through Newton to South Surrey,” he told the audience. “We’re going to pause development and we’re going to turn to smart development. Smart development means densifying along corridors.”
Nantel said the LRT is “a total disaster in the making.” He’s calling for an “elevated, suspended rail system” that would have a “smaller footprint” and not interfere with existing traffic.
Prior to the meeting, the BIA presented each candidate with a list of 21 questions asking, among them, why they’re running for mayor as well as their positions on affordable housing, crime, transportation and transparency.
On the latter, Wolanski said he would publish a record of how councillors and the mayor vote “on all issues presented before them for perusal,” while Jayaprakash said People First Surrey would “use technology to attain a similar level of transparency to every city transaction and contracts.”
Greaves said Proudly Surrey, if elected, would bring more transparency into city hall by “eliminating a ‘silo’ mentality where departments control the flow of communication that hinders the process,” and reducing the number of staff that report to the city manager and increasing the number of employees reporting to council, as well as implementing a “strict code of ethics” and requiring elected officials and their spouses to disclose the assets.
“We need to prohibit elected officials from practicing in a profession that is likely to conflict with their public duties,” Greaves said.
Councillor Gill said “we need to proactively engage with our community and keep them up to date with what is going on at city hall.”
Asked how he would bring transparency into city hall, Popat said “the lack of transparency and accountability is one of the main reasons why I am running for mayor.
“When public show concern and ask questions, they are ignored,” he charged. Popat said all bylaws need to be reviewed to “make sure that there are processes in place that will demand transparency and accountability similar to the new process of transparency and accountability in the new election financing process.”
Councillor Bruce Hayne said Integrity Now would “institute” an ombudsperson at city hall with the authority to “investigate and act on any complaints.
“Engaging community groups and collaborating on issues will help to ensure issues are broadly discussed and communicated,” Hayne said. “Broad consultation always leads to more transparency.” The ombudsperson, Hayne told the Civic Hotel crowd, would be “completely independent of mayor and council. It’s very important to have that independent third party,” he said.