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Linda Hepner, Doug McCallum, Barinder Rasode battle for Surrey's top job

11/05/2014 09:15 EST | Updated 01/05/2015 05:59 EST
One of B.C.'s most hotly contested mayoral races got even hotter Tuesday night as Surrey's three leading candidates clashed over crime, transportation, and the city's growth during a live debate in front of a sold out crowd.​

Surrey First's Linda Hepner, Safe Surrey Coalition's Doug McCallum, and One Surrey's Barinder Rasode debated their election platforms and answered audience members' questions during the hour-and-a-half long event, co-hosted by CBC Radio One and SFU Urban Studies at the university's Surrey Central campus.

Four other independent mayoral candidates — John Edwards, Grant Rice, John Wolanski and Bajwa Vikram — were not included in the debate.

The CBC and SFU decided it would be more meaningful for voters to include only those candidates who have put together political teams under a common banner, have had a significant presence in the daily political conversations of this campaign, and who have a legitimate chance to win according to public opinion polls.

However, you can read more about the wider field of candidates here.

On crime and safety

Up for debate first was crime and safety — which has become the biggest issue in the election campaign.

Hepner, McCallum and Rasode have all released platforms that commit to increasing the number of police officers patrolling the streets, but they differ on details like the number of new officers needed and policing priorities.

Hepner and Rasode spoke loudly over one another when Rasode suggested the city needs to establish a community court system that can deal more effectively with chronic offenders. 

"I have worked with the Board of Trade, attended every crime breakfast that they have held in this city, I have attended every community association meeting, where residents have said to me over and over again what we are doing now is not working," said Rasode.

Hepner interrupted, saying the Surrey First party, which Rasode left to become an independent earlier this year, has been advocating for and working toward a community court system for many years.

"May I remind councillor Rasode that she was the chair [of Surrey's Police Committee] for three-and-a-half years and only called three meetings...

"I would suggest that councillor Rasode, three-and-a-half years, and not once did you raise the issue until it became opportunistic after the death of Julie Paskall."

Paskall, 53, was brutally assaulted by a stranger in the parking lot of the Newton Arena while waiting to pick up her teenage son from a hockey game in December 2013.

She died days later, prompting an outpouring of community outrage and a promise by the city to crackdown on crime.

McCallum was relatively silent on the issue until called on by CBC Radio One's Stephen Quinn, who was moderating the event.

"Doug McCallum, you are arguably a single-issue candidate here and this would be your issue and you're saying very little," said Quinn.

"I actually want to say this is the example, right here, why nothing's been done in the last couple of years," said McCallum, referring to the heated back-and-forth between Hepner and Rasode.

"That's all that council has done in the last two years is bicker back-and-forth."

On the issue of drug recovery houses

Still on the issue of crime, the candidates turned their attention to addiction and mental illness when McCallum said he would close down drug recovery houses in Surrey.

"It needs to be done because that's the decay in all of our communities throughout Surrey, because the drug dealing then starts there, and then the gangs come in, and then murders start. So we've got to get rid of the drug recovery houses."

Rasode shot back.

"Recovery homes provide a valuable service to addicts and people who are trying to better their lives," said Rasode, prompting applause from the audience.

"The challenge is it's the flop houses. It's the houses that collect multiple Ministry of Social Services checks. They fail the people who are trying to make their lives better, they fail neighbourhoods. What we need is regulated, registered recovery homes that have staff on site 24 hours that provide clinical supervision, because we need to help people who need help." 

Hepner agreed with Rasode.

On the issue of transportation

Transportation was another major election issue addressed by the mayoral candidates during Tuesday's debate. 

Bus driver and Surrey resident Bruce Murray asked whether the candidates, win or lose, would actively advocate for accessible and affordable transit by encouraging supporters to vote in favour of the TransLink referendum, which would determine the future of transit funding.

All three candidates agreed they would. However, they differ in their plans to connect communities and get Surrey moving.

"In the absence of rail, we're going to have to get more buses. But my position is we will have rail in Surrey by 2018 and we'll be riding the rails," said Hepner.

Rasode is also an advocate for light rail, and agrees that the answer to Surrey's transit crunch in the interim is more rapid buses connecting town centres and major transit hubs like SkyTrain.

"Surrey needs to be number one with more rapid buses, more B-Line buses, more bus routes and routes that actually make some sense for the residents who are using those routes. The one thing that increases ridership on a bus is if you can have a trip on one seat, and in Surrey you're not able to."

McCallum agreed with his opponents, but added that a lack of community buses in Surrey is hurting seniors. 

"The problem that has happened in the last nine years is the fact that the current council hasn't kept the pressure on TransLink to keep those buses coming into the fast-growing areas," said the former TransLink chair.

"If you go over to the bus depot in Surrey, just off 132nd, you'll see many, many, I was going to say hundreds, of community buses just sitting idle over there. What needs to be done is to encourage service and get those buses out into our communities and operating, instead of cutting them back."

Surrey voters will determine the winner of Tuesday's debate when they cast their ballots on November 15.

To watch the full debate click on the video player icon.

- On mobile?Click here to see the live blog from the debate

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