Dianne Watts cruised to a landslide victory in 2011, but she is giving up the mayor’s chair to try her hand at federal politics.
Five candidates want to replace her, including the so-called big three — former mayor Doug McCallum and city councillors Barinder Rasode and Linda Hepner.
Doug McCallum is a former three-term mayor who hasn’t been heard from much since he was defeated by Dianne Watts in the 2005 election. McCallum re-emerged on Surrey’s political scene shortly after Watts announced she wasn’t seeking re-election. He's been critical of the city’s new $100 million city hall building, and is promising to freeze taxes, implement a ward system in time for the next election and cut city spending. McCallum has recruited a team of four council candidates to join his Safe Surrey Coalition.
Linda Hepner is a three-term city councillor who was selected by Surrey First as its mayoral candidate after Watts stepped aside. If elected, Hepner says a light rail system connecting the city centre area with Guildford will be up and running before she completes her first term as mayor. Hepner says under her party’s leadership, the city has attracted more than $11 billion in private investment. She says 2,000 new companies are created in Surrey each year. Surrey First is running a full slate of council candidates.
Barinder Rasode is a two-term city councillor. She was elected both times as a member of Surrey First, but she broke ranks with the party earlier this year to sit as an independent. Rasode has made public safety the focal point of her campaign and she recruited Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford to help her draft her anti-crime strategy. Rasode wants the RCMP to implement a “No call too small" policy, modelled after the Delta Police Department. She has recruited a team of seven council candidates to run under her One Surrey banner.
John Edwards is a health care professional and past president of the Rotary Club of Surrey who has lived in the city for 20 years. Edwards wants to build a convention centre on city-owned land in Cloverdale. He's also calling for the immediate hire of 30 new RCMP officers and increased security and surveillance at all of the city’s SkyTrain stations.
Vikram Bajwa is a local businessman who received more than 4,400 votes when he ran for mayor in 2011. Bajwa wants to introduce a city police force to Surrey, similar to that of Vancouver. He is also a vocal critic of the new city hall facility and he says he wants to tighten up spending.
Surrey’s crime rate has fallen by 11 per cent over the last five years, but public safety remains the number one issue. Seventeen-year-old Serena Vermeersch was killed as she was walking home from a bus stop in East Newton last month. Hockey mom Julie Paskall was killed in a brutal attack outside the Newton Arena late last year.
Although arrests have been made in both cases, many people in the city don’t feel safe. A Take back the city rally was held in Newton in September. About 100 people attended a community safety meeting last year following Paskall’s death.
If you live or work in the City Centre area, getting around on transit is a breeze. The trouble is, the transportation network in the rest of the city leaves much to be desired. Newer communities such as East Clayton Heights were built with the assurance that residents would have access to a reliable public transit system, but locals are still waiting for that promise to come true.
A light rail system is part of the short term vision for the city, but a large portion of the population is tired of waiting. About three in four Surrey residents choose their vehicle as their primary means of transportation.
Surrey’s new city hall building opened earlier this year. It’s a beautiful, open facility with stunning architecture, located in the heart of the City Centre area next to the new library and not far from the SFU Surrey campus.
Surrey First says it’s a key component of the city’s plan to build up a viable downtown core. Critics say there was nothing wrong with the old building, and there was no need to invest $100 million in a new facility.
More than 1,000 new residents move into Surrey each month. It’s the second biggest city in the province and its population will soon surpass Vancouver’s. Surrey also has one of the youngest populations in the country.
With new families moving to the city every day, there is added stress to keep up with demand for everything from recreation centres and libraries to off-leash dog parks.