The majority of candidates in the Oct. 19 federal election who faced a crowd of some 250 residents Wednesday evening agreed that train tracks running along the White Rock and South Surrey waterfront should be relocated.
Relocating the line inland has been a particularly hot topic for the Peninsula in recent years, following the 2013 Lac Mégantic derailment, the death of a jogger on White Rock tracks that same summer and ongoing plans to build a coal-transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks.
At the South Surrey-White Rock all-candidates forum at First United Church, relocation received clear support from NDP Pixie Hobby, Liberal Judy Higginbotham, Green Larry Colero and Progressive Canadian Brian Marlatt.
“I would work like crazy to get (the relocation) through,” Hobby told those who turned out to the train-focused forum.
Higginbotham described relocation as “essential… doable.”
Marlatt said the federal government “has the right and responsibility to act in the interest of Canadians… when the interest of Canadians is in peril.”
Colero said relocating the line is the only way to address local concerns. He described the financial cost as irrelevant.
“What are our lives worth here?”
Libertarian Bonnie Hu’s position was less clear. She said the matter should be discussed with those in the industry and private-property owners, and that such decisions should be moved away from the federal government to provincial and municipal officials.
Conservative candidate Dianne Watts did not attend – moderator Helen Fathers noted she had declined due to a previous commitment – but has supported rail relocation during her last term as Surrey’s mayor, when four options for realigning the tracks inland were presented.
Wednesday, Colero suggested Watts’ take on the issue has shifted. He chided her “for initially supporting it then abruptly changing… her position to something more palatable to the Conservative party.”
Meeting organizer Daphne McFarland said she and Cindy McMullen were moved to arrange it – with help from Paula Williams, co-founder of Communities and Coal – after noticing rail issues were not a focus of other forums.
“You could argue that the train is the most important issue for this riding,” McFarland told the crowd.
In addition to how they would make relocation a reality, the candidates were asked – in the context of dangerous goods being transported through the area and the potential for derailment – what changes they would make to ensure the community’s safety; how they would mitigate the impact of increased train traffic; what they would do to change how Canada’s port authorities and Transport Canada are run to better-reflect local concerns in decision-making processes; and, their position on U.S. thermal-coal exports and the Fraser Surrey Docks coal-transfer facility.
Regarding the latter, Hu said her party stands for free-market principles and property rights; Colero described the facility as “an insane venture that must be stopped”; Marlatt said – to applause – that the best solution “may be to change the government”; Hobby said no to thermal coal and that the FSD project needs to be subjected to a proper assessment “based on solid science”; Higginbotham said “we should absolutely not even think about it.”
Higginbotham made a point of highlighting Watts’ absence during the discussion.
“We don’t want to see this happen and unfortunately, the one person that does isn’t here to face the music.”
Questions from attendees included one wanting to know how the candidates would be “accountable and transparent” for their expenses if elected. All of the candidates agreed the information should be fully in the public eye, and kept to a minimum.
“Integrity matters, and I don’t think that’s something the present government understands,” said Marlatt.
Higginbotham, Hobby and Colero said the information should be posted online and justified; Hu pledged to keep her expenditures “as low as possible.”
The meeting was the second all-candidates event this week.
Tuesday evening, the Peninsula Homeless to Housing Task Force offered candidates and attendees an opportunity to discuss topics related to housing and homelessness, at South Surrey’s Grace Point Church.
More than 100 people turned out to hear candidates Colero, Watts, Hobby and Higginbotham address the issues.
Next up, the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce will host an all-candidates debate Tuesday (Oct. 13), 7-8:30 p.m. at Southridge School, 2656 160 St.