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Surrey election 2014: meet the independent candidates

11/04/2014 10:07 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST
So far, the attention on the Surrey mayoral election has been all about three candidates: Doug McCallum, Linda Hepner and Barinder Rasode.

They are all familiar faces at city hall. McCallum was mayor from 1996 to 2005 after serving three years on council, while Hepner and Rasode served on council for nine and six years respectively.

They have a team of like-minded council candidates behind them and could each spend a half million dollars or more on their campaigns. But they’re not the only ones in this race: get ready to meet the independent candidates, who are also seeking the mayor’s seat.

John Edwards: Community support needed for mental health

John Edwards has lived in Surrey since 1994. He has worked mostly as a nurse and in various capacities for pharmaceutical companies.

On the issue of crime, he wants to see the city hire 30 more police officers and to put more focus on crime prevention through drug and alcohol rehab and community mental health support.

“We need to make services available for those people that can be rehabilitated,” Edwards said. “One candidate said there should be a ‘Riverview-like’ institution in Surrey. That’s very archaic thinking. They should be out in the community. They’re normal people like you and me.”

Edwards thinks the city should build a convention centre to create jobs and drive economic growth. As mayor, he would support a safe injection site in Surrey.

Grant Rice: Crime not the only issue

Grant Rice is embarking on his first mayoral campaign, although he has unsuccessfully sought council positions in 2008 and 2011.

Environmental issues are close to his heart, although he acknowledges that crime is the most important issue for voters this year.

“I know crime is top of mind. There have been some very tragic incidents in the near past,” Rice said. “That’s what’s in the news now, but what’s in the news a month or a year from now will still be poor planning, insufficient transportation, governance that doesn’t work for people, a lack of citizen engagement. They won’t be addressed by the current people because they haven’t in the past.”

Rice is also concerned with what he calls a lack of transparency at city hall. He said that the slate system employed by Rasode, McCallum and Hepner is broken and hurts democracy in the city.

“I’m trying to break that cycle,” he said.

Bajwa Vikram: Surrey ready for its own airport

The way Bajwa Vikram sees it, the sky’s the limit for Surrey — literally.

He thinks it’s time the city had its own international airport.

“Our population is going to be close to a million people. So why not?” Vikram said.

Vikram thinks once the current contract with the RCMP is up, it’s time for the city to move on. He said the multicultural nature of Surrey means the city would be better served with a locally-controlled police department.

He said a new airport would bring in enough revenue to pay for the new police force.

John Wolanski: mental health a human right

John Wolanski has unsuccessfully run for council three times: in 2002, 2008, and 2011. This is his first run at the mayor’s job.

Currently, he sees a “culture of entitlement” from the current mayor and council. He feels they are too close with the developers who finance their campaigns.

He says the crime problem the city faces is largely due to the lack of support for people with mental health and addiction issues. As mayor, he would work with other municipalities and the province to get Riverview re-opened as a mental health facility.

“These people are out on the street,” he said. “They’re not able to cope. It’s a human rights issue.”

Do they have a chance?

While the candidates have different ideas about policy, they all agree that not being part of a slate hurts their chances to get their message out and raise campaign funds.

SFU urban studies professor Patrick Smith agrees. He says that in large cities with an at-large system, it’s hard to imagine independents succeeding against well-funded slates, especially when there are almost no restrictions on campaign spending at the municipal level.

“BC is the wild west when it comes to lack of regulation in our campaign system,” he said. “I used to joke that Kim Jong-un could give Dianne Watts $1 million, and no one would know about it until 120 days after the election [when candidates have to disclose their spending].”

Smith thinks that if more big cities adopted a ward system, voters would get to know potential candidates better and independents would have a better chance to engage with them. More importantly, it might be time for stricter rules around campaign financing.

Until that happens, he said, the influence of independent candidates will likely be limited to either the role of spoiler, or perhaps raising the profile of certain issues.

CBC Radio One and SFU Urban Studies are presenting a Surrey mayoral debate at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the SFU Westminster Savings Theatre. Linda Hepner, Doug McCallum and Barinder Rasode will be taking part. The event is sold out but will be live cast on CBC Radio One, and on our website, cbc.ca/bc

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