Surrey First’s mayoral candidate Tom Gill took to the stage to concede the mayoral race to former mayor Doug McCallum on Oct. 20. (Photo: Amy Reid)

SURREY FIRST, burst: How the ruling slate earned just one council seat

Mayor Linda Hepner thinks another ‘entity’ will replace her slate

It’s finger-pointing time. Surrey First has burst.

While the long-reigning slate’s six incumbent school board trustees were re-elected in Saturday’s election, the city’s voters retired all Surrey First council incumbents who were still in the race, and their former slate mates who broke off in a schism to create their own group, Integrity Now. The lone Surrey First candidate elected to council Saturday is newcomer Linda Annis, of Crime Stoppers.

McCallum won 45,323 votes defeating Surrey First’s Tom Gill who received 28,304 votes and Integrity Now’s Bruce Hayne, whoc received 27,798.

“It seems change, for better or for worse, is what the people are looking for, and change it shall be,” Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, of Surrey First,” said Sunday.

Asked if she thinks Surrey First will rise up like the proverbial phoenix, Hepner replied, “No, I think out of the ashes we’ll do a lot of analysis but I think something else will emerge. It always does, right?

“Do I believe some other entity will arise? Absolutely. Do I know what that will look like? No.”

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Surrey First Mayor Linda Hepner. (File photo)

Not returning to council are incumbents Councillor Tom Gill, who was Surrey First’s mayoral candidate, councillors Mike Starchuk and Vera LeFranc, and also former Surrey First councillors Barbara Steele, Dave Woods and Bruce Hayne who split from the slate to form Integrity Now, with Hayne running for mayor under that banner.

Surrey First Mayor Linda Hepner and councillors Judy Villeneuve and Mary Martin, did not seek re-election. Together, the three had served 55 years on council.

Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, who as an independent defeated Surrey Electors Team mayor Doug McCallum in 2005, founded Surrey First for the 2008 civic elections and the slate dominated city hall until now, with McCallum’s reprise win with the Safe Surrey Coalition on Saturday night.

So what happened?

“I think that question — I haven’t been there since 2014 (when she left the civic political arena to run for federal office) — so Linda was there. When I left in 2014 we had every seat on council and so I honestly over the past four years, I don’t know how we went from that to splitting the party apart and so I think you probably need to ask her that questions,” Watts told the Now-Leader on Sunday.

Political parties, especially forming government for lengthy periods of time, do wear out their welcome.

“For sure,” Watts said.

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Former Surrey First mayor Dianne Watts. (File photo)

For example, Canadian voters decimated prime minister Kim Campbell’s Progressive Conservative government, reducing it to two seats from 156 seats in the House of Commons in the 1993 federal election; B.C.’s dynastic Social Credit Party fell from 47 to seven seats in the 1991 provincial election, and after nine years in government, B.C.’s NDP free-fell from 39 to two seats in the 2001 provincial election.

“I think with the splitting off where you’ve got Bruce and two incumbent councillors that start, that were over in one party, and splitting off from Surrey First and you’ve got Tom with two incumbent councillors there, I mean that certainly split the vote and allowed McCallum to come up the middle, and what led to that, I can’t answer that question, that’s a question for Linda, but certainly that affected the outcome of the election.”

Asked the same question, Gill said Sunday that “Bruce and me split our own vote. I think that was a problem. You know, I’d been subject to a pretty contentious smear campaign for the last six months, that had a bearing on it, and it’s just unfortunate because both of those issues had a significant play in my election outcome.”

“I think I would have won if I wasn’t subject to a smear campaign and the team had stayed together, yeah,”

Gill told the Now-Leader. “I think we could have done it.”

“The third item which we need to put on the table is LRT, I think that got a lot of play. You know, the crime element got a lot of play too so you know I just think it’s a combination of those four things.”

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Surrey First incumbent councillor and the slate’s mayoralty candidate Tom Gill. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

What’s next for Gill? He laughed at the question. “Currently the unemployment rate is 4.2 per cent and I’m a CPA; I’m not overly concerned. I’m good, honest to God, I’m good. It’s been a wonderful experience. I hold my head up high.”

Asked if he has any hard feelings toward Hayne and his team, Gill replied, “I think in politics you can’t have hard feelings.”

In the aftermath of the election defeat, Hayne’s not sure what’s next for him. “I don’t know. I know there’s a lot of opportunities out there in the business world for me.”

What’s his take on the election results?

“That’s kind of a good question, what happened,” Hayne said. “I think people wanted change, clearly wanted something different. That was made clear not only with not going back again with Surrey First but every single incumbent who was running again didn’t make it. You know, people like Barb Steele who’ve been on council for 20 years, and others. Obviously people wanted change, they wanted something different, and they certainly are getting it.”

“There are people that are certainly blaming me for the split vote to allow Doug to come through the middle, and so yeah, there is that sentiment with some people out there. It doesn’t matter who split with who, people clearly wanted change and obviously I wasn’t change enough, that’s what I’m taking from this.”

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Surrey First incumbent councillor Bruce Hayne, mayoral candidate for Integrity Now. (File photo)

“This is going to be really interesting because this is a whole crop of brand new councillors,” Hayne said, “never been elected to anything before, and a guy that hasn’t been there in 14 years.”

Hepner, who will remain in office until McCallum’s inaugural council meeting on Nov. 5, recalled something McCallum told her in 2005, when she was running with him as part of SET.

“He said to me political organizations have a lifespan, and it maybe that we don’t make it. That was at the time what he said relative to SET and it’s certainly what happened with him and Dianne,” Hepner told the Now-Leader on Sunday. “I would say that we live right now in an age of change and disruption, and I think to some extent we could say that it simply had a lifespan, and it was a decade dynasty that was destined at some point to come. I also believe that people really are fed-up with growth; I think that is a real regional issue that we’re going to have to take a serious look at.”

“If it’s not what people want,” Hepner said, “then we have to need to figure out what happens to all the people that move here continually from other parts of the country and around the world,” Hepner said. “I also think that being stuck in traffic is singularly one of the most annoying things to foll who have busy lives.

“It is not necessarily Surrey First’s fault but it is mechanism to look for change, in terms of a solution. People think the solutions are simple, and they think a change is the right way to go. I learned long ago in this game that people get the government they asked for, so they asked for change and they’re going to see change. There you go, will see how that plays out. It happens politically, all of the time. I’m sorry to see it happen right now because I think we have some very significant issues that require some degree of depth in terms of local government experience, and there isn’t any, other than McCallum himself.”

Hepner said she thinks the splitting of Surrey First “also had an effect. Bruce going one direction, Tom going another direction, and yeah, I think that did have an effect. It would be a combination of all those factors, who knows. At the end of the day, it is was it is.

“At the end of the day, this too shall pass and we’ll see where Surrey goes. But I certainly hope that the reputation we have garnered internationally and nationally continues because it takes a lot of work to be in a non-partisan environment and make sure every level of government, you’re working really well with those people, and I hope that is not at risk.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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