Surrey is headed for an historic election this fall, the likes of which the city has never seen.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is stepping down from the centre chair to run for the federal Conservative nomination in South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale.
It will be only the fifth time since 1880 that contestants won’t have to upset an incumbent for the mayor’s chair.
In addition, Couns. Barinder Rasode and Linda Hepner are running for that position, leaving their seats vacant, and former councillor Marvin Hunt’s seat has been empty all year as he ran successfully with the provincial Liberals this spring and was elected MLA of Surrey-Panorama.
Never before in 134 years of civic government has Surrey had three vacant councillor chairs to fill, according to documents obtained by The Leader.
It likely means there will be a host of independents running for those spots. The deadline for candidates to register for the election is Friday, Oct. 10.
And the fight for the mayor’s chair – where it’s anyone’s game – will likely be an extremely hard-fought battle.
Surrey’s Elections Registrar Jane Sullivan hopes the unique aspects of this civic election will result in a much higher voter turnout.
Last year, only 25 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls. Low numbers usually indicate a high level of voter satisfaction with the status quo.
Surrey’s highest voter turnout since 1973 occurred in 1977 when controversial mayor Ed McKitka was ousted by Bill Vogel.
That year, voter turnout was 44.21 per cent.
In 1980, Don Ross upset Vogel when 41.34 per cent of voters cast their ballots.
In 1990, an impressive 37.95 per cent of the eligible electorate voted after an electoral brawl of a campaign, when Ross launched an impressive, but unsuccessful, bid to take out sitting mayor Bob Bose. In addition to that, there was a referendum that year asking residents about building height plans for Semiahmoo Town Centre, which likely added to voter interest.
Much more recently, 35 per cent of eligible voters hit the booth when Dianne Watts ousted sitting mayor Doug McCallum.
Despite those figures, since 1973, Surrey has averaged a paltry 28.87 per cent voter turnout.
In 1984, that dipped as low as 16.3 per cent showed up to vote. It came on the heels of the byelection of Jerry Huot who took Rita Johnston’s spot when she resigned.
For comparison, voter turnout at provincial elections during that time averaged 60.56; federally it was 67.8 per cent.
Part of the reason for that is people continually underestimate the impact local government has on their lives, Sullivan said.
“This is grassroots,” she said. “This is where you feel the direct impact of government.”
If the province or nation shuts down, the impact might not be seen by the public for some time.
But if the city shuts down for even a day, the impact is immediate.
Playing fields don’t get cut, garbage piles up, snowy roads don’t get plowed and building applications don’t get approved.
Sullivan’s job is to make sure the city hosts a good, clean election with no flaws.
However, her pet project is to get as many voters out as possible.
“We need to engage citizens,” Sullivan said. “And let them know they can make a difference.”
One other historic note of this election is that the people chosen for public office will be doing the job for four years – longer than any in this city’s history.
For more information about this election, how to register and how to vote, visit the City of Surrey Election site.