COLUMN: Epic civic battle brewing

This election will, for the first time, see the mayor and council elected for four-year terms – a long time in municipal politics.

COLUMN: Epic civic battle brewing

The battle lines for the Surrey civic election are being drawn, and voters will have many candidates to choose from.

Thus far, the incumbent Surrey First team has endorsed Coun. Linda Hepner for mayor and has a slate of eight running mates seeking councillor seats, three of them new to civic politics. Five incumbents councillors are seeking re-election.

Former mayor Doug McCallum announced a slate called Safe Surrey Coalition last week, and has four candidates running with him and seeking council seats.

Coun. Barinder Rasode, who has left Surrey First, is expected to announce she is also running for mayor on Saturday, and is also expected to unveil a slate of councillor candidates.

That means there will be three slates or groups going head to head – something that hasn’t been seen in Surrey for many years. In two of the three elections won by current Mayor Dianne Watts, Surrey First candidates ran against Surrey Civic Coalition, which struggled to compete with a slate filled mainly with incumbents. SCC – rebranded as Surrey Matters – is dormant at present. It did not put forth a mayoral candidate in 2008 and 2011, which weakened its appeal as an alternative.

This election looks much like those of the late 1970s, many of which were epic battles.

It is even more similar to the 1987 election, which saw three well-known councillors run for mayor and three slates go head-to-head. That election was similar in another way – it was the first of two elections which had council make the transition to three-year terms.

This election will, for the first time, see the mayor and council elected for four-year terms – a long time in civic politics.

In 1987, Bob Bose (who is supporting Rasode) represented Surrey Civic Electors, who were an arm of the provincial NDP. Bonnie Schrenk ran for the Surrey Non-Partisan Association, while Paul Easton ran for Surrey Municipal Electors, which had controlled council for most of the previous decade.

Schrenk had been a member of SME before going to the SNPA, after publicly disagreeing with the majority party. Her position at that time was quite similar to Rasode’s this year.

Easton was in the challenging position of being the defender of the status quo at a time when there was increasing dissatisfaction with some council decisions. His position was very similar to that of Hepner’s.

In addition, Easton and Schrenk were drawing from largely the same right-of-centre voter pool, which allowed Bose to come through and win. He also had the advantages of being on council for most of the previous decade and of coming from a well-known Surrey family. His grandfather had been reeve (mayor) of Surrey from 1905 to 1909.

There was no equivalent in 1987 to what McCallum is attempting to do – regain the mayor’s chair he held for nine years. Historically, it has been difficult for former mayors to win their seats back in Surrey, with only longtime reeve Joe Brown doing so in 1940 and reeve Bob Nesbitt coming back to win the seat in a byelection after the death of reeve George Hahn in 1961. Surrey’s first mayor, Thomas Shannon, also did so in 1886.

Indeed, four-term mayor Don Ross, who voluntarily stepped aside in 1987, came back to run against Bose in 1990 and was defeated.

This will be a hard-fought race for mayor, but the fight for council seats will also be intense. All three groups will have well-financed and professional campaigns and voters will have to look over the candidates’ qualifications at some length before casting ballots.

It is important to vote. The council elected by voters this November will be in office until December 2018 – and a great deal will happen in Surrey between now and then.

Frank Bucholts is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

Surrey North Delta Leader