The past year saw some major battles fought on several fronts, on the city beat, in public school curriculum and of course the Surrey’s pivotal role in May’s provincial election.
Hawthorne Park in North Surrey was – and still is – the subject of an acrimonious battle after a group of residents working under the banner Save Hawthorne Rotary Park, led by Steven Pettigrew, began fighting city hall’s plan to run a road through the park.
(A rendering of Hawthorne Rotary Park from the City of Surrey.)
Pettigrew’s group presented council with a 5,000-signature petition in July calling for the proposed 105 Avenue Road between Whalley Boulevard and 150 Street to be cancelled.
“We want Hawthorne Park to be preserved for community, for future generations and for the wildlife living there,” the petition read.
In response, council challenged the petitioners with an “Alternative Approval Process” requiring them to collect by Sept. 22 the signatures of at least 10 per cent of Surrey’s electors – 30, 372 signatures – in opposition to the plan or council will take further steps to ensure the project gets done. The effort fell short, with the residents collecting 12,244 signatures, and in November council approved the controversial road project.
World-renowned environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum weighed in on the residents’ side.
Prior to council’s vote on the matter, Pettigrew told the Now-Leader that members of his group are prepared to block bulldozers, if it comes to that.
“We do have hundreds of people that have committed to standing in front of the tractors,” he said in September.
Meantime, Surrey’s decades-old controversy over illegal suites heated up again in 2017 after city hall decided to crack down on the suites after receiving complaints about a dearth of parking in East Clayton.
In August it sent out notices to 175 homeowners warning them to remove their suites by Jan. 31 on pain of fines or even court actions. This led to a great hue and cry from tenants confronted with eviction in this difficult housing market.
The latest is that city council decided earlier this month to suspend its intention to enforce the notices and directed city staff to develop a city-wide compliance program that’s expected to take about a year to develop.
Earlier in the year, the May 9 provincial election saw Surrey’s voters divide the city with a jagged crack. The NDP formed government, helped by a post-election alliance with the Green Party, putting an end to 16 years of Liberal governance. Of Surrey’s nine ridings, the NDP took six and the Liberals, three.
The northwest portion of Surrey is NDP orange, and the southeast, Liberal red.
While some ridings predictably go left or right in any given election in this politically polarized city, the May 9 election roughly split the city in half.
(Surrey-Whalley NDP MLA Bruce Ralston watches the election results roll in on May 9. Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Liberal Marvin Hunt was elected in Surrey-Cloverdale, which has been a Liberal outpost since its creation in 1991. Stephanie Cadieux won Surrey South for the Liberals, while Surrey-White Rock — held by Liberal MLA Gordon Hogg for 10 years before he retired from provincial politics — once again elected a Liberal, Tracy Redies.
Of Surrey’s ridings, the Surrey-Whalley re-elected NDP MLA Bruce Ralston. That riding has been a solid NDP riding with the exception of Liberal MLA Elayne Brenzinger (2001-05). Surrey-Green Timbers sent the NDP’s Rachna Singh to Victoria.
The NDP’s Harry Bains was re-elected in Surrey Newton. Surrey-Panorama also elected an NDP MLA, Jinny Sims. The NDP’s Jagrup Brar defeated Liberal cabinet minister Peter Fassbender in Surrey-Fleetwood, and the new riding of Surrey-Guildford saw the NDP’s Garry Begg defeat another Liberal cabinet minister, Amrik Virk.
In the wake of the election, three Surrey MLAs became cabinet ministers: Ralston is minister of jobs, trade and technology; Bains is minister of labour and Sims is minister of citizens’ services.
And finally, in October, a group called Parents United Canada filed an “urgent” human rights complaint after the Surrey school district refused to rent it space to hold a rally, in the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Newton, aimed at stopping a controversial curriculum program called SOGI 123.
(Surrey school district spokesman Doug Strachan and SOGI opponent Kari Simpson. Photo: Now-Leader)
The program, according to sogieducation.org, “equips educators of all backgrounds and experiences with tools and resources for supporting marginalized LGBTQ students and for creating safer and more inclusive school environments for all students.”
Kari Simpson, president of a group called Culture Guard, denounced it as a “political program, brainwashing students” and circumventing parental notification.
Her group lodged a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, based on Section 8 of the BC Human Rights Code. It has not yet been resolved.