Here’s a sneak preview of the big blockbuster that’s soon to be released.
Namely, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum — the Sequel.
After a 13-year break from the mayor’s chair, which he occupied from 1996 to 2005, McCallum will be sworn in by a judge on Nov. 5 and he and the newly elected city council will get down to business on their first regular council meeting on Monday, Nov. 19.
First, let’s travel back in time for a look at some highlights of his political career thus far. After serving a term as councillor, McCallum ran for mayor under the now-defunct Surrey Electors Team in 1996 and ended NDP-tied Surrey Civic Electors mayor Bob Bose’s nine-year mayoralty.
In 1997, McCallum called for the Pacific National Exhibition to be moved to Stokes Pit in South Surrey, and the Molson Indy to Surrey as well. Neither happened. Also that year McCallum and the RCMP brass unveiled a bold plan to overhaul policing in Surrey by setting up five distinct policing districts in Whalley, Newton, Cloverdale, Fleetwood-Guildford and South Surrey. “It’s a great day for Surrey and the RCMP,” McCallum said at the time, adding, “It’s a bad day for crime.”
In 1999, McCallum was easily re-elected mayor with 67 per cent of the vote. The following year, he announced his intention to run for the provincial Liberals in the new Surrey-Tynehead riding but lost to Dave Hayer.
In 2002, McCallum succeeded former Vancouver city councillor George Puil as head of TransLink, and drew some heat over accusations he tried to boost the city’s image by muzzling RCMP spokesmen and the flow of crime information to the public. SET kept its majority control on council in the civic election as McCallum entered his third term as mayor.
In 2002, under his watch, Surrey had the ignominious distinction of being the car theft capital of North America.
In 2003, McCallum launched his “Whalley Action Team,” aimed at cleaning up the city’s north end “one block at a time,” with particular focus on crack houses, and he had street barriers set up to block traffic access to that infamous strip of 135A Street. Also that year, McCallum won a stare-down with then provincial solicitor-general Rich Coleman over whether the city could set up its own police force to replace the RCMP. McCallum wanted to replace the Mounties in response to a decision by RCMP brass to fold Canada’s largest detachment into a policing jurisdiction that would include Langley and White Rock. After Coleman said the provincial government would not grant Surrey permission to go it alone, McCallum replied, “Well, watch us.”
Shortly after that, council voted five-four to look at setting up a city police force. A few months later, the RCMP amalgamation plan was put on hold for lack of support and by year’s end, council decided to stick with the RCMP.
In 2005 allegations of sexual harassment against a senior manager surfaced at city hall, and McCallum ordered an investigation.
That was a big year. The city launched its online mapping system COSMOS to improve public access to Surrey-related information via the Internet. The federal government paid $5.75 million for 14 hectares (34.5 acres) of provincial land in Green Timbers Urban Forest to build the new RCMP E-division headquarters, the administrative centre of RCMP operations in B.C. and the Yukon. McCallum also called for the construction of a new hospital in Surrey, on 15 acres of land near 152nd Street and Highway 10. It was an election year, and he promised the city would provide $50 million toward a new hospital if he and his Surrey Electors Team were re-elected with a majority. Former political ally Dianne Watts ran against him as an independent in the civic election, and McCallum lost.
After that, McCallum pulled a bit of a Bobby Fischer, disappearing from public life until, in March of 2014, he popped by council’s inaugural meeting at the new city hall in Whalley.
“I was in a meeting nearby, and I thought I’d drop by,” he told reporter Amy Reid, who was covering the meeting. “It’s a nice council chambers.” He then proceeded to call it “wasted taxpayer’s money.”
Within months, McCallum set up a new political group, the Safe Surrey Coalition, to run in the November 2014 election.
The coalition, which did not see a candidate elected to council, wanted, among other things, to freeze taxes for two years, reverse growing debt through an “aggressive” repayment plan, shut down the Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC) and eliminate plans to build a district energy heating system. It also wanted to cut the city’s operating budget by three per cent, chop Surrey’s Regional Economic Summit, and “re-prioritize and increase” funding for the city’s parks, recreation and culture strategic plan.
After his 2014 defeat McCallum all but vanished again, until this summer he announced he would resurrect the Safe Surrey Coalition to run in the Oct. 20 election, which saw himself and seven of his coalition mates elected to council.
So that’s the public history. Privately, what was he doing during his 13-year hiatus from council?
“I enjoyed life,” McCallum told the Now-Leader.
“Donna and I have kids all over the world, and so one lives in New Zealand and she’s a teacher there, at the University of Auckland. We have a son in Qatar, teaching in the international school in Doha, I actually just got back from there about six months ago.”
“We visited them, that’s what we did a lot, and so we learned about big cities, like in Qatar it’s interesting that right now they’re building three SkyTrain lines all at the same time,” he said. “It was fascinating to see how in construction they literally build around the clock, seven days a week, and most big cities do actually. Even cities the size of Surrey. They’re a lot more progressive than Surrey is, or any city for that matter in Canada. The rest of the world’s moving quickly, put it that way. By doing it quickly they save a lot of money.”
“I learned a lot,” he said.
After being mayor, McCallum also sat on the board of the Law Foundation of BC for six years.
On the eve of his new mayoralty, how is McCallum thinking of tackling the job this time? Are there strategies he’ll draw on from the past? Things he would do differently?
“Yeah, on a number of fronts,” he replied. “I think cities generally, at least big cities, and fast growing, they sort of evolve over time,” he said. “When I was mayor before there was a lot of high growth. I think there still is, but it’s changing a little bit and so that’s why it’s very important on this one we said we’re going to pause development because when you have fast-growing growth, you’ve got to get the infrastructure in behind it. In the last four years, it’s been the highest – 12,000 people a year, probably more coming in – and the infrastructure in the city over those years hasn’t caught up.”
That infrastructure includes things like schools, transit, hospitals, playing fields and parks and recreation.
“I think it’s how all cities in the world evolve – not in a straight line, but in a line that addresses growth. And I think we’re in a period now where we need to get our infrastructure caught up to our growth. So that’s why we’re suggesting we’re going to pause development and turn to smart development, and smart development means exactly that – getting the infrastructure caught up to our growth.
“It also means, as far as development, that we do the development, densify along the transit corridors that we create,” McCallum said.
“That’s how the city should be evolving now as we head into a new phase in the city. I think this is going to be the most exciting phase, in the next little while. It’s going to be very fast movement. I mean, people have told us very clearly they don’t want to study this stuff to death; they don’t want referendums, they just want us to do it. I think it’s going to change the whole face of Surrey over the next four years, in a good way.”