Surrey First has announced Tom Gill will be its mayoral candidate in the upcoming civic election.
There’s been much interest in replacing Mayor Linda Hepner as the party’s mayoral candidate, after her April announcement she wouldn’t seek re-election this fall.
While fellow Surrey First councillors Dave Woods, Vera LeFranc, Tom Gill and Mike Starchuk expressed interest in a mayoral run, Gill was chosen.
In an interview with the Now-Leader Friday afternoon, Gill said Surrey First has made “significant change in the last decade” and that he is “looking forward to the next 10 years.”
In a statement, Hepner said Gill is a “tremendous choice to be Surrey’s next mayor.”
“Tom knows Surrey so well,” she said, “and he understands what needs to be done in the busy years ahead to make sure we remain a great place to live, work and raise a family. Tom will make a terrific mayor and be a strong, decisive and level-headed voice for our community at the regional, provincial and federal levels.”
Gill, an accountant who has served on council since 2005, said he has a seven-point plan that he would implement as mayor.
“When you look at what’s been happening in the community, public safety, crime, gangs and drugs is a significant issue in our community,” he said. “We will be looking at building on the success we’ve had to date, both working with federal and provincial governments.”
Gill also proposed “enhancements” to the Surrey Public Safety Committee by way of an advisory board and utilizing “additional expertise.”
Housing is also top of mind for Gill, who has lived in Surrey for nearly 30 years.
“What’s really important to me in terms of making significant changes is younger families, in terms of housing affordability,” he said. “It’s a huge crisis in our community I really want to make sure our youth, in the midst of creating a family, have the resources in place.”
Gill said he also wants to support the city’s youth, noting one third of Surrey’s population is under the age of 19.
“I hope we will be internationally recognized in the 21st century on how we can create skills and trades for these young individuals,” he noted.
Another focus for Gill would be “enhancing our entertainment district” to keep people from heading to Vancouver for those activities.
And, he says he’d get Surrey to “go back to the basics.”
“City hall and the city have grown so significantly over last number of years,” he said, noting he wants to create a “customer-oriented” city hall.
“That’s not to suggest we’re not doing a good job now but things change, the future comes, and using IT and other resources will make us more efficient and more effective,” he said.
He also said he’d create a “development advisory committee.”
Gill vowed to also create a “very significant traffic congestion relief plan, looking at some significant resources added to north, south, east, west corridors and looking at how to enhance the road levy, possibly doubling it in the short term.”
Gill said “there’s no question, being able to commute around Surrey is becoming somewhat problematic.”
He suggested Surrey First had to “play catch up” in terms of the area’s civic amenities when it came into power, and now, he wants to “catch up on some of the city infrastructure we all use.”
Gill, who chairs the city’s finance and transportation committees, said he’s proud of Surrey’s “strong financials” over the years, pointing to several awards the city has received for its statements and disclosures.
He pointed to the city’s tax rate, noting its the second lowest in terms of residential taxes, and third lowest for business tax.
“You get great value in Surrey.”
During his interview with the Now-Leader, Gill reflected on Surrey’s image, and how it’s changed since he was young
“When I was a young man and driving to Vancouver to go to school at that time, the radios would, on a consistent basis, make negative remarks in terms of Surrey and Surrey residents, and it was really awful to hear that content,” he said. “I think we’ve grown, we’ve matured, and we want to show the world and our province and the Lower Mainland that Surrey is a fantastic place to live.
“When you’ve got 1,000 people moving here each month, that’s a choice and that choice is Surrey. When you reflect on our commitments to civic amenities you’ll note we have some of the best.”
He envisioned a downtown core that is “hustling and bustling” in the years to come.
What about LRT?
Gill said there are a “number of individuals that may have not been educated on the benefits of LRT. I think when looking at many North American and European communities, the net benefit of LRT is significant.”
Gill used the example of Metrotown.
“When you’re taking the SkyTrain out to Metrotown, you see all these significant towers as you approach but as you leave the density decreases.”
That’s a model Surrey should avoid, he said.
“Modifying and changing things, with LRT, is also much more significantly convenient and simpler. SkyTrain stations cost upward of $40 million and an LRT station will cost you roughly $3 million,” Gill noted. “It has distinct advantages.”
According to Gill, Surrey’s LRT line will “likely will be seeing LRT investments over the next 50 years that would extend well over 150 kilometres across Surrey.”
He said it could be possible to extend the line to South Surrey, White Rock, as well as Campbell Heights, and Port Kells.
Although Gill has been chosen to lead Surrey First into the upcoming October civic election, his team has not yet been revealed.
With Hepner not seeking re-election and Surrey First councillors Judy Villeneuve and Mary Martin also bowing out, Hayne’s split means there are now at least four vacancies in the party, which won all nine seats on city council in the last election.
“We’re working through that,” said Gill. “Some great recommendations are coming in from city councillors…. We are quite diverse in terms of who we want.”
Gill’s mayoral candidacy announcement comes one day after Councillor Bruce Hayne resigned from Surrey First, claiming his decision stems from a lack of transparency and a difference in “vision.”
“Me and Bruce have been friends over the last number of years,” Gill said when asked to comment on Hayne’s split. “I have nothing to say, he’s entitled to his aspirations.”
It’s a move Mayor Linda Hepner called “hypocritical” and “unclassy.”
Hayne told the Now-Leader he too will run in the October civic election but wouldn’t reveal if he’d run as a council or mayoral candidate, or if he would run as part of a team.
“I have not started to assemble a team or what you would consider a slate,” said Hayne, “but I certainly will be looking at the field and seeing if there are people who are aligned with my thinking and align with my vision for the city.
Hayne said his split was a “matter of integrity.”
“I have great respect for many of my colleagues but quite frankly the way that we have been dealing with certain issues and files, it’s just not open and transparent the way I’d like it to be,” Hayne told the Now-Leader Wednesday. I simply have a different vision and direction for the city than I see Surrey First going, and continuing to go, so I have to break away and sit as an independent.”
Hayne – a former businessman and past president of the Surrey Board of Trade – said he doesn’t agree “with the leadership of Surrey First and where it’s going” and his “heart is just not in Surrey First anymore.”
Meantime, rumours continue to fly about Langley East MLA and former B.C. housing minister Rich Coleman mulling a mayoral run in Surrey.
In late April, Coleman told the Now-Leader it was an “unsubstantiated rumour” but said he’d received phone calls asking if he’s interested in the job.
“Politics is such an organism,” he said at the time. “Every time an election is coming along people start scouting around.”
But on Wednesday night, longtime Coleman supporter Jordan Bateman tweeted that Coleman is “thinking about it.”
Bateman, who is communications director for Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, is rumoured to be part of Coleman’s team.
“He’d be a great candidate – his skill set fits a lot of Surrey’s needs perfectly,” Bateman told the Now-Leader Wednesday.
Meantime, three new slates — Surrey Community Alliance, Proudly Surrey and People First Surrey — have materialized in Surrey that intend to challenge Surrey First party in the Oct. 20 civic election.
Just over 100,000 people cast a ballot in Surrey in the 2014 civic election, up from 70,253 in 2011. Out of 287,940 eligible Surrey voters, the city said 101,558 cast a ballot – a 35.3 per cent voter turnout. That is up from 2008 and 2011 elections, which saw a 24.1 per cent and 25 per cent turnout respectively.
Surrey voters head to the polls on Oct. 20, 2018.