This weekend Surrey celebrates Earth Day with the annual Party For the Planet festivities in Whalley.
The new Surrey City Hall will be the focus of the event, with main stage featuring assorted musical acts and guided tours of the new facility. Surrey residents and others in attendance will have a chance to view the new council chambers and will even be able to check out the mayor’s office.
With a little luck, you will even have a chance to test the fit of the mayor’s chair – if you can wait long enough to get through the line of incumbent and former city politicians who aspire to fill that chair themselves.
While current mayor Dianne Watts insists she will be running again in November’s civic elections, that promise is worth as much as most political commitments. The grass looks pretty green in the federal Conservative party stronghold riding of South Surrey-White Rock- Cloverdale, where Watts would be a star candidate for beleaguered Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories.
As the "will she or won’t she?" speculation about Watts’ intensions continues to swirl, the list of pretenders to her throne continues to grow.
Last week, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Surrey Councillor Barinder Rasode officially split from the Surrey First team that swept every seat on council in the 2011 civic elections. It’s quite a feat for Rasode – Surrey First describes themselves as a "coalition of independents," but Rasode has resigned from the group so she can sit as – wait for it – an independent. Seems kind of redundant redundant, no?
Her actions last week show that when opportunity knocks, Rasode will answer the door. She first took a swing at civic politics in 2005 with a failed council bid under the banner of the left-leaning Surrey Civic Coalition. She was back in 2008 where she rode the popular Surrey First electoral train into office as the first South Asian woman ever elected to Surrey council. Everything was still hunky-dory three years later when Rasode and every other member of the Surrey First civic slate swept the council elections on the strength of Watts’ leadership and popularity.
When she was first elected, Rasode promised to "not forget the little people," before settling in to five solid years as Surrey First’s cheerleader in residence.
Last year, all that harmony went out the window when Watts used her deciding vote to spike plans for a casino in South Surrey. Suddenly the cheerleader found her voice as Rasode spoke out against Watts and the actions of the Surrey First council.
It seems the prodevelopment Surrey First agenda was a little too constraining for Rasode as she railed against her colleagues on such matters as transparency in Surrey First decision making, contracting out police services, crime and safety in the community, and how money is spent at city hall.
All great points, but for some reason these issues never bothered her for the first five years of her tenure until she had some sort of falling out with her colleagues. She tweeted about all of the sunshine and happiness in the wonderful world of Surrey until she had her epiphany and began speaking out against the group that helped her get elected in the first place. And by amazing coincidence, she found her conscience roughly one year before the next civic election.
Rasode’s resignation from Surrey First last week was full of the expected "she said, she said" accusations between herself and Watts. Rasode accused the Surrey First councillors of making important decisions behind closed doors while Watts countered by pointing out Rasode supported every Surrey First budget and never raised any of her concerns in council chambers, preferring to do her talking in the media.
Yep, Rasode and Watts don’t like each other. Got it.
What was interesting in Rasode’s resignation notice was her commitment to three key issues: 1) The city’s treatment of public safety and crime issues; 2) city spending; 3) Transparency in decision making and community consultation.
By another incredible coincidence, these are the same talking points being bandied about by former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, who emerged from self-imposed exile in the last month. Neither McCallum or Rasode will admit to making a run at the mayor’s chair in the upcoming November election, but by golly, that’s an awful lot of smoke we’re smelling without any apparent fire.
The bottom line is every decision made by a politician is based on two key goals: 1) Get elected; 2) Stay elected. By stepping down now, Rasode has positioned herself well to be seen in a sympathetic light as a martyr of Surrey First. She is also painting herself as the sole voice of dissent in the council chambers of City Hall.
That should be enough to carry her to re-election as a councillor in November and make her a key player on any group hoping to form a new political party to take on Surrey First.
Rasode claims to be against slate politics, but considering how much she has benefited from them in the past, it’s hard to see her turning down an opportunity to run with a group created to be a viable alternative to Surrey First.
Michael Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org