If the political winds blowing through Surrey city hall weren’t blustery enough, a voice from the past has roiled the air currents significantly.
The new city hall building is now open for business. The assorted departments have made the move north from Highway 10 into the heart of Whalley World and on March 31, Surrey city council met for the first time in its new home.
The fancy new digs drew the expected "oohs" and "aahs" from those in attendance – with one notable exception: former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum.
McCallum, who lost to current Mayor Dianne Watts in the 2005 civic election, has largely stayed out of the public eye in the eight-plus years since his departure from city hall.
And yet there he was, popping by the new city hall to see what was happening because, after all, he had a meeting in the area. He professed that he didn’t even know the council meeting was the first ever in the new crown jewel pushed through by his successor. An amazing coincidence, really.
Watts introduced McCallum at the meeting and at a break, Now reporter Amy Reid approached the former mayor and introduced herself. The two chatted briefly about the impressive new council chambers before McCallum moved on to talk with other people he knew in the room.
Before the break was over, McCallum returned to where Reid was sitting and resumed their conversation. This time, however, McCallum had much more to say. The former mayor blasted the current civic leaders for the new city hall building, describing the structure as "wasted taxpayers’ money."
McCallum said the money spent on the new building in Whalley – $97 million and counting – was too much and the impact of such spending would be felt in areas that are already underserved in terms of recreation and arts facilities.
But McCallum wasn’t done yet. He then proceeded to take aim at the Surrey City Development Corporation for a perceived conflict of interest in approving buildings the city would benefit from financially. He followed that up by stating his opposition to a SCDC project in South
Surrey that includes a pair of high-rise towers. The SCDC needs the towers included in the project to make it financially viable, a contention McCallum rejects saying the money would be available if the city hadn’t spent "over $100 million on city hall."
Again, just random thoughts from a guy who dropped by on a whim to see what all the fuss was about.
His observations naturally led to a question about making another run for the mayor’s chair, but he laughed off such suggestions claiming he hadn’t thought about such a scenario.
And if you believe that, might I also interest you in purchasing a lovely fixer upper in Bridgeview known locally as the Pattullo Bridge? Since then, McCallum has appeared for interviews on at least two radio stations, and on April 8, he just happened to drop by a transit forum at SFU. Must have had a meeting in the area, no? These are interesting times in Surrey city politics.
Watts has now served three terms as mayor and is regarded by many pundits in British Columbia as somewhat of a golden child for whichever higher level of office – federal or provincial – that she opts to pursue. A move to Victoria is unlikely, given that we just held a provincial election last spring and the next vote won’t occur until 2017. The next federal election, however, is slated for October of 2015 and by golly, wouldn’t you know it, one of the safest Conservative seats west of Alberta is up for grabs. Current MP Russ Hiebert has outworn his welcome in the riding of South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale and, rather than face challengers for the nomination in the riding, is taking his fat pension and riding off into the sunset.
At the same time, Surrey will hold elections in November for all eight council seats and the mayor’s chair. Watts’ Surrey First "coalition of independents" currently holds every seat on council and, despite some recent hiccups, are unlikely to be seriously challenged by the left-leaning Surrey Matters party.
But what if another development-friendly party were to emerge to challenge the Surrey First team, minus the formidable Watts? That would certainly crank up the heat, especially if the new "coalition of independents" has a credible figurehead to lead the charge.
Like, say, a certain former mayor…
Michael Booth can be reached at email@example.com