The Surrey election, to take place on Saturday, is proving to be both hard-fought and pivotal.
While almost all the attention has been focused on the three leading contenders for mayor, the person who wins that seat will still only have one vote on council. If the winning candidate can command a majority of votes on most issues, then she or he or can set an agenda. That may not happen.
Coun. Linda Hepner, running to replace Dianne Watts with the mayor’s Surrey First group, is running with eight candidates for council.
Coun. Barinder Rasode, a former Surrey First councillor who has formed a new organization, One Surrey, is running with seven candidates for council.
Former mayor Doug McCallum is running with Safe Surrey, and he has four council candidates running with him. If he is to win Saturday, he would need all four to win to command a majority on council and have control of his agenda.
What seems quite likely is that the new Surrey council will contain a mix of councillors who are running with all three slates, and perhaps on their own. Each slate is putting forward well-known individuals, some with familiar names, and all with levels of support from various sectors of the community.
There are also some other candidates – a total of 35 for the eight councillor positions. That means that 15 of those running are not part of the three slates running with the mayoral candidates.
Among the other candidates are Brenda Locke, a former Liberal MLA and federal Liberal candidate. She and former council candidate Stephen Gammer have formed Team Surrey. Cliff Blair, a former Progressive Conservative federal candidate, is running as an independent. So are past candidates Jim McMurtry and Gary Hoffman.
There are many new candidates, and each has something to contribute. Surrey has published a voter’s guide with short biographies.
Much more information about candidates, including videos, is available on the city’s website at surrey.ca/elections. There is also the opportunity to communicate directly with candidates and ask questions via email on that site.
There are also 23 candidates for the six Surrey seats on the Surrey Board of Education. Six, including current chair Shawn Wilson, are with Surrey First Education, and incumbent trustee Charlene Dobie, the lone elected official who was part of the now-dormant Surrey Civic Coalition in 2011, is seeking re-election.
Many people hesitate to vote because of the complexity of researching all the candidates. There is no requirement to vote for eight councillors or six trustees. Voters can vote for just one if they choose, and their votes will count. In fact, those votes are more powerful as they do not end up adding more support to another candidate who may not be as highly rated with that particular voter.
Surrey is a pioneer in using a database to track voters on election day, and eliminate mountains of paper. The system used in 2011 is so successful that Burnaby and Vancouver are using it this year for the first time.
There are 322,079 eligible voters in Surrey – a huge number. Reaching them is an impossible challenge, but with a little effort, potential voters can do their part Saturday to select the new council and board of education members.
This time, they will serve four-year terms, so it is even more important to choose wisely.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.