Frank Bucholtz

COLUMN: Splitting opposition for Surrey mayor’s seat will benefit McCallum

If many contenders step up 2022 municipal election could be a repeat of 2018

The October, 2022 municipal election is 15 months away, but political battle lines are already in place in Surrey.

Mayor Doug McCallum and three of his Safe Surrey Coalition councillors plan to run again for sure, and Coun. Doug Elford is likely to join them.

On the other side of the great political divide, Coun. Brenda Locke announced July 21 that she will be the mayoral candidate for Surrey Connect, the latest in a long string of Surrey political organizations that have come and gone since the 1960s. It was formed by Locke and Coun. Jack Hundial. Both were elected as part of McCallum’s SSC slate, but left – largely due to McCallum’s disinterest in meaningfully consulting with councillors and the community.

Locke, who was the most experienced member of the SSC slate that ran with McCallum in 2018, has had a range of disagreements with McCallum, while Hundial, a former Surrey RCMP officer, has focused much attention on the police transition. The police transition issue, and concerns about the cost, continue to be the main dividing line in Surrey politics.

Much can happen in 15 months. If opposition to McCallum winning his fifth term as mayor coalesces around Locke and her slate, he could be in some trouble. However, the 2018 election gives some clues as to what is most likely to happen.

Under mayors Dianne Watts and Linda Hepner, and thanks to millions of dollars in donations from developers, Surrey First had held all nine seats on council for several terms. It split apart into two rival groups in 2018, mostly over which Surrey First councillor would be the mayoral candidate. McCallum, who was mayor from 1996 until 2005 when he was defeated by Watts, came up the middle to win.

Surrey First did not die of its self-inflicted wounds. Freshman Coun. Linda Annis is its only elected member.

She is considering running for mayor herself, or a former Surrey First council member may reappear on the ballot. If both Surrey First and Surrey Connect are trying to defeat McCallum, he’s in the driver’s seat.

McCallum has many detractors, but his support base hasn’t really diminished. He is basking in the glow of the SkyTrain extension along Fraser Highway, which is almost universally supported by Surrey residents. The level of support for a Surrey Police Service, his other major campaign pledge, has declined.

However, there is a significant group of residents who want the new police force and appreciate his strongman style of governing.

The current attempt to force a referendum on the police transition is a noble effort, but faces steep uphill odds. A major decision on policing should be made by the public, not politicians. However, the effort to force a referendum is likely to fail, as it requires support across the province.

Most likely, the police force will either be in place by October, 2022 or be very close to the finish line, even though Locke has vowed to stop the transition, if elected. The province has taken a hands-off approach to the transition.

In 2018, no less than eight slates contested the election. Six of them fielded candidates for mayor. About one-third of the eligible voters cast ballots. There were eight candidates for mayor, and 48 people running for the eight council seats.

With a split opposition, 2022 could easily be a repeat of 2018, and McCallum may well be re-elected.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

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