DESI TODAY requested Councillor Linda Hepner of Surrey First, former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum and Councillor Barinder Rasode to present their take on why they should be the next Mayor of Surrey to our readers.
All of them readily agreed.
So here are their write-ups and our readers should go through them carefully to decide who they think would be best as Mayor of British Columbia’s second largest city.
Of course, what is really important is to make sure you get out and cast your precious vote on Saturday, November 15.
In Surrey, residents vote for one Mayor, eight councillors, and six school trustees.
‘Vote for Surrey First so we can continue on our journey of building the city we love to call home’
BY LINDA HEPNER
I am honoured to reach out to the strong Indo-Canadian community that has enriched the lives of all Surrey residents. Some thirty years ago I moved with my family to Surrey and have watched our city grow from an agricultural community to a thriving metropolis. Our best days are ahead of us, but it is a privilege we must earn by working together, and I want to share with you our Surrey First vision to build Surrey into the city of our dreams.
For twenty years I worked as a public servant, including as the Manager of Economic Development at City Hall. I learned that to harness our diversity advantage we must put the citizen first. Good ideas can come from anywhere, from a new immigrant or a long-time resident, from the left or right, business or arts groups, it is the balance of all these and the harmony of them all that makes for a vibrant community.
As someone who loves this community, I would not stand for the jokes people used to tell about Surrey and so I ran for Council and was elected in 2005. It seems so long ago now, but they were dark times. City Hall was plagued in scandal, despite a growing population, there was insufficient investment in our infrastructure, the police were woefully under-funded, and young people didn’t believe in a future here. Every aspect of Surrey needed fixing, and the only way to fix it was to work together, and under Mayor Dianne Watts’ leadership, Surrey First was born. A coalition of independents, it included arts advocates like Judy Villeneuve and an accountant like Tom Gill. We had different ideas but a common purpose, and we mastered the skill of working together for the betterment of the community.
Through hard work life in Surrey got better. We maintained the lowest residential taxes in Greater Vancouver by controlling spending, with the lowest per capita spending in Greater Vancouver. But we still managed to invest over $5 billion in the Build Surrey program, improving roads, expanding parks, building community centres and sports fields, all the key elements to make Surrey a true home for families. To create job opportunities for young families, we maintained the second lowest business taxes in the region and brought in foundations for a modern economy like our Smart Surrey initiative and the Innovation Boulevard, to attract the smartest entrepreneurs in the world to want to work and live and hire here in Surrey.
As journalist Kevin Diawkiw has shown, under Mayor Doug McCallum, Surrey had the worst number of police officers per person in all of Canada. His under-funding led to an over-worked police force and the highest violent crime rate of Canada’s 15 largest cities according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics 2002 report. At Surrey First we worked to repair the damage and rebuild the RCMP, hiring over 300 officers with more to come. Tellingly, in 2001 under Mayor McCallum the number of crimes per officer was 127, the worst in the country, which we’ve recently managed to get down to 55 per officer.
To clean up the scandal at City Hall Surrey First brought in unprecedented improvements, such as a lobbyist registry and a whistle-blower protection policy. This has had tangible improvements, with better morale and trust at City Hall and national recognition for Surrey’s transparency with City Hall repeatedly receiving the Canadian Award for Financial Reporting.
To be sure, Surrey is a better place than when we took over in 2005. We’ve gone from being a joke to being the centre of growth, with 10,000 new residents a year and 15,000 new businesses setting up shop since 2005. But there is more to do and I want to share with you three priorities Surrey First is determined to tackle.
First and foremost is public safety, the number one responsibility of any government and my number one priority as your Mayor. We will continue to add officers to achieve our goal of one officer for every 700 residents, keeping up with our population growth. But we cannot reduce the complexities of crime to simple slogans and grand-standing. Surrey First worked to develop the Crime Reduction Strategy in partnership with citizens like you, and I am proud to say that we have implemented over 90% of recommendations with crime falling significantly since we took office. We will build a comprehensive approach to crime that includes not just more police, but also smarter policing, taking advantage of better information, cooperating with community groups and working to address the root causes of crime such as poverty, mental health and addictions and a disconnect with young people.
A growing city like Surrey deserves transportation infrastructure worthy of a metropolis and that is why Surrey First is committed to investing in public transit, including a Light Rail System. Our light rail transit system will connect all the town centres together, reducing commute times, minimizing traffic congestion, and fighting pollution while at the same time strengthening local businesses and improving accessibility for seniors.
Finally, our economy must keep up with our population growth, to provide good jobs for families and a funding base to support our social programs and quality of life. But growth must be balanced, and that is why we are 100% behind the Green Surrey initiative to protect our parks and agriculture lands. We are steadily moving towards renewable energy, beginning with our city vehicle fleets. Job opportunities must provide for all of Surrey residents’ unique talents, and while we are proud of the $11 billion in development investment Surrey has received, we are committed to diversifying to lead in the 21st Century knowledge economy. We are working in partnership with the province and educational institutions to expand Kwantlen Polytechnic in Surrey with a new campus under construction and strengthen SFU Surrey’s presence here. The Innovation Boulevard is the centre-piece of our health-science technology hub and with a new Cultural Corridor we will make Surrey the magnet of the creative economy in Western Canada.
Surrey First is a proven team that has worked with you to build a Surrey we can all be proud of. But there is so much more to do, and I ask for your vote so that we can continue on our journey of building the city we love to call home.
Surrey’s next mayor must take immediate action to ensure a successful future
BY DOUG MCCALLUM
I am very proud of the 12 years that I spent as both a City Councillor and the Mayor. I cleaned up the crime-ridden town centre of Whalley by taking aggressive stances on drug houses, increasing the police presence on the streets, and ensuring that all criminal activity was taken seriously and met with swift action.
I showed respect for the residents of Surrey and froze property taxes for 9 years. The City of Surrey also reached unprecedented levels of growth and prosperity through property development and investment.
Since leaving office in 2005, I have enjoyed my life as a private citizen by spending quality time with my family. I was also involved in several personal and professional pursuits.
Yet in spite of the wonderful lifestyle I am living, I have decided to once again put my name forward as a candidate to become your next Mayor of Surrey.
The reason for my decision is simple: Surrey is at a crossroads, encountering many problems that require strong and decisive leadership to ensure that we remain on a path of sustainable growth that benefits everyone.
First, let me outline some of the key issues that have put a fire in my belly to make improvements and bring sweeping change.
Crime has infiltrated every corner of the City of Surrey. Citizens in all of Surrey’s neighbourhoods have major concerns about public safety. 2013 was a record year for murders with a shocking 25, which was of course capped by the tragic death of Julie Paskall outside the Newton hockey arena in December. Property crime in 2014 has jumped 35 per cent, with break and enters and vehicle theft leaving residents in fear within their own neighbourhoods. Unregulated drug recovery houses are springing up every week, creating havoc and a level of anxiety amongst upstanding citizens worried for the safety and security of their families.
Since 2003, the City of Surrey has the worst performance of the nine largest municipalities in BC in lowering criminal code offences, and is the only city in the region to see an increase in violent crime. When it comes to property crime, only Kelowna has a worse record than Surrey over this time frame.
Something isn’t working, and yet the current Mayor and Council seem to have put their heads in the sand about the level of crime in our community.
For the past 6 years, every single City Councillor in attendance at Police Committee meetings has voted to close them off to the public. Once again, I want to emphasize that these votes were unanimous – no one stood up for the citizens of Surrey and showed a dissenting, independent voice.
The Surrey RCMP is now set to move into the old City Hall, dramatically decreasing the emphasis on community policing by concentrating operations in the south of Surrey.
Furthermore, information released as a result of my inquiries into how many police are truly on the streets revealed a disturbing number: most shifts have only 36 uniformed officers working, meaning that there is one patrol officer for every 14,156 Surrey residents.
In spite of a new clause promising greater accountability in the 20-year contract signed with the RCMP in 2012, the current Mayor and Council continue to blindly accept RCMP reports, operations and results.
This is completely unacceptable. As Mayor, the responsibility to guarantee that Surrey residents get value for the $90 million they spend on the RCMP every year begins and ends with me.
I will double the amount of officers on patrol to 72 without spending any new money, but rather by demanding better service as per the terms of the contract; more officers need to leave their desk duty and get into the community. I will open up Police Committee meetings to the public (with the exception those dealing with legal or personnel matters) so that community members will have a better understanding of how policing is working in Surrey. I will ensure that community policing continues to be a significant priority in the way that police have presence in neighbourhoods across Surrey. Finally, I will make the Mayor’s office the first line of accountability for the public – there are several measures that I will implement to ensure that the Mayor has better access to accurate information and a greater ability to have an impact if changes to public safety strategies are needed.
I will take direct responsibility, and make sure that every citizen of Surrey knows that they can come to me directly to deal with the problems they are facing.
There are three other key Surrey issues that have made me determined to win this election and take immediate action with.
First, the City of Surrey’s mismanagement of taxpayers’ money is out of control.
Including interest payments over the next 25 years, the new City Hall will cost residents a whopping $150 million – a selfish and unnecessary expense that ignores top priorities in the community. Furthermore, over $5 million was spent on new furniture for City Hall – again, an example of excessive waste that shows no respect for the public purse.
The Surrey City Development Corporation, which invested $20 million into a brewery, is competing against private development, taking speculative risks with public money, and costing the City of Surrey over $96 million per year.
Property taxes have increased by close to 3 per cent every year since 2012 (one of the largest jumps in Metro Vancouver), yet services have not improved for Surrey residents.
As Mayor, I would immediately find efficiencies in City Hall to reduce spending, eliminate the Surrey City Development Corporation and the Surrey Regional Economic Forum to save taxpayers over $100 million per year, and look to invest those services into better police and community services so greater equity and attention is paid to treating every Surrey neighbourhood with respect. I would also look to use those savings to lessen the tax burden on property owners.
Secondly, transit services are completely inadequate for our population.
We currently have 1,200 residents moving into the city every month, yet there have been no major transit upgrades in Surrey for decades.
When I served as the Chair of Translink, I oversaw the largest increase in regional transportation infrastructure built in over 50 years. From the Canada Line, to the Golden Ears Bridge, to the world’s largest purchase of trolley buses for Metro Vancouver, I was able to effectively secure provincial and federal investment to drastically upgrade and modernize transit across the region.
The Mayor of Surrey must be a tireless advocate with senior levels of government to receive this kind of funding. Within a decade, the City of Surrey will be the largest city in the province, and without a Mayor that is prepared to fight hard to receive the transportation investment we require, the community is going to suffer. I am ready, willing, experienced and knowledgeable about how to secure the funding that our city requires.
Lastly, I believe that we are grossly underserved by the current electoral system.
Simply put, for a city as geographically and culturally diverse as Surrey, we desperately need wards to allow people to have more representative, accountable and effective elected officials.
I believe that different areas of Surrey deserve their own representatives that are responsible for a defined section of the city. It works well for our Federal and Provincial counterparts, and demonstrates the level of diversity that we can achieve at City Hall. People should be able to vote for Councillors that are informed and understand the specific issues that each neighbourhood is encountering. In the current at-large system, entire sections of Surrey are being forgotten about and even ignored because Councillors are getting elected by focussing all their efforts in select areas at the expense of others.
It is time to end this outdated way of choosing elected officials. As Mayor, I would immediately begin the process of petitioning the BC government to change the electoral system so that wards would be in place for the election in 2018.
These are the broad strokes of why I am running for office, and over the coming months, I am excited to have the opportunity to present more detailed policy proposals for the voters of Surrey to consider.
I am inspired by a deep concern for the City that I have called home for over 40 years. Surrey has become the showcase for the best that BC has to offer – a multicultural landscape that is strong and vibrant, a business community that generates attention and interest in the city’s competitive landscape, and a kind and considerate population that is a model for community spirit.
But unless we take immediate action to tackle the very real growing pains the City of Surrey is currently facing, then we are risking our chance at a future that is healthy, dynamic and comfortable.
This is our community. The time for leadership is now.
I am ready for that commitment.
Surrey citizens look for change in 2014
BY BARINDER RASODE
Every day people tell me they don’t feel safe and it’s time for Surrey to make fighting crime its number one priority. Violent crime continues to shake our neighbourhoods, and skyrocketing property crime is having a significant impact on the livelihood of our businesses and residents.
Last week, Surrey recorded its 11th murder of the year, and there were a record number of homicides in 2013. Our community has been let down and people are fed up that nothing is being done to fix the problem – it’s time for action. Our neighbourhoods and parks deserve some intensive care and the status quo is simply not good enough.
It’s time for fresh ideas and new approaches to the longstanding crime problem in Surrey. Municipal governments have the power to affect change quickly and dramatically, if there is the political will to implement solutions. The City’s revenues totaled $788.5 million last year, so we have the money to deal with this complex, yet fixable problem.
It is completely unacceptable that Vancouver has 95 per cent more sworn officers than Surrey. Vancouver’s crime rate has dropped significantly since 1998, and Surrey’s rate has not. Vancouver has dramatically increased the number of cases it solves, and Surrey has not.
We must hire more police officers because we don’t have the manpower to deal with the growing caseload and to serve our growing population. But, the RCMP can’t do it alone. We need a team of 200 community safety personnel who will target problem areas, and deliver new crime prevention and public safety programs.
We need to start tackling the root causes of crime and addressing the mental illness and addictions issues in our community. One-third of Surrey’s population is under the age of 19, so we must make sure they’re guided on a path to success. That means finding and helping the youth that need our support. Our business community also needs more support to deal with the increase in crime. We need to create a Business Watch Program to address the crime and nuisance activity that is costing people money and causing businesses to shut down.
Improving transit and transportation infrastructure is also vital to the success of our city. And, residents have repeatedly told us that it is one of the most pressing concerns in Surrey. I’m committed to fixing Surrey’s transportation issues by delivering rapid transit and new rapid bus service. By not coming to the table as a true partner with our regional, provincial and federal counterparts, we have failed to secure the necessary funding to improve transit in our city.
Over the next 25 years, the population of Surrey is expected to grow by 50 per cent, to approximately 750,000. We need to ensure that we are preparing for this growth by improving our road network and intersections, so we can better manage the flow of people and goods across the city. And, we have to solve the longstanding issue of finding appropriate truck parking to support this vital and growing industry in Surrey.
It’s imperative that we create a thriving economy and make life more affordable for families – that means keeping taxes low, generating new employment opportunities, and ensuring that city hall respects taxpayer money, because waste and abuse of tax dollars can cripple a city.
Our small businesses are the backbone of our economy and play a critical role in job creation. In order to foster a healthy business environment, we have to streamline processes and reduce unnecessary regulations so businesses can operate efficiently and effectively.
I believe that building a progressive city with opportunities for young people requires new leadership and a new a way of doing things. I’m raising my three kids in Surrey because I love this city. And, I feel it’s my responsibility to look after the future leaders, as well the aging parents who built the city.
If we make the right choices, we will overcome our challenges and build a stronger, safer city. We’ve learned some valuable lessons over the last number of years, and now it’s time to move our city forward and fix the problems that are standing in the way of us becoming a truly incredible city.