South Surrey focus for mayoral hopefuls

All-candidates debate addresses transportation, affordable housing, First Nations and cannabis

Although Surrey mayoral candidates discussed a gamut of topics during a debate Wednesday, the subject of mobility in South Surrey received the most attention.

It was a packed house at the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce event, held at Morgan Creek Golf Course, in the lead-up to the Oct. 20 election. All eight mayoral candidates attended and were asked nine questions, three of which related to mobility concerns.

Candidates were seated in random order, and had up to 90 seconds to respond . After each question, there was time for 60-second “rebuttals.”

After opening statements, the first question that was asked – which yielded a wide-range of answers – was on congestion. Moderator Frank Bucholtz told the candidates there’s a perception that the city approves commercial and residential development in South Surrey without considering road congestion.

Pauline Greaves (Proudly Surrey) said the first thing she would do is put a hold on development along 16, 20, 24 and 32 avenues, and that the city needs to widen 16 and 32 avenues.

“Unless we do that, we will always have congestion,” Greaves said.

Independent François Nantel suggested congestion could be reduced by incorporating one-way streets.

“If you look at any major city – any city that is proud to be a big city, a city where people live and people are happy – you have one-way streets everywhere, basically,” Nantel said.

Tom Gill (Surrey First) said the emphasis should be on partnerships with federal and provincial governments to make sure the city has “accesses” at 16, 20 and 32 avenues.

“When you’re looking at congestion, I think it’s really about mode of transportation…. The opportunity of the future is to look at how we can embrace transportation, rapid transportation, LRT,” Gill said.

Rajesh Jayaprakash (People First Surrey) said his party’s policy on development, overall, is to “build up and build more.”

“When it comes to congestion, we do not believe in a stopping-development policy,” Jayaprakash said, adding that a priority would be creating “a formula” with the provincial and federal governments.

Imtiaz Popat (Progressive Sustainable Surrey) told the crowd he lives in the Bridgeview neighbourhood and that he had “a hell of a time getting here in this congestion.”

Popat said his two-member slate’s vision is for a reactivation of the inter-urban rail line, an option they consider better than SkyTrain and LRT.

“The money saved could go into buses,” Popat said.

Independent John Wolanski said the development community has gone into “speed mode” and that the only way to relieve congestion is to cut back on development, but that would limit tax revenue for the city.

“All you do is keep adding people to the down-line, and the man at the top makes the money. But remember one thing when you go home,” he said to the crowd. “There’s no U-Haul behind a hearse.”

Bruce Hayne (Integrity Now) said the 32 Avenue interchange “absolutely” needs to be improved.

“We have to widen 16 Avenue and so on,” Hayne said.

Hayne called for new relationships with the provincial government.

“Whether you’ve been here five years… 10 years… or three generations, our quality of life should not go down because we’re a growing community,” Hayne said.

Doug McCallum (Safe Surrey Coalition) said the first thing the city needs to do is pause development and let the infrastructure catch up.

“We look at the Bailey bridge there, it’s been there for years and needs to be replaced. Both 24th and 32nd interchange need to be done. Our second phase of SkyTrain will come down to South Surrey. It will come down King George highway, up 152nd to White Rock,” McCallum said, noting South Surrey traffic signals need to be synchronized.

On rebuttal, Nantel targeted existing members of council over the planned new Pattullo Bridge.

“Can you explain to the people here, how can the mayor and council come up with a four (lane) bridge replacement for an 80-year-old four bridge that’s existing?” Nantel said. “Somebody tell me how the thinking is working over there?”

Greaves also targeted incumbents before the next round of questions.

“If this plan that you’re proposing is so important, why propose it now? Why did you not implement it before? Why approve the development and then decide four, 12, eight years later, you are now ready to put in an appropriate transportation system?”

Other topics discussed included First Nations reconciliation, cannabis, green space, affordable housing, reducing red tape and crime.

The crowd of more than 100 were relatively tame throughout the two-hour session, with few answers inciting a negative reaction. However, when – on the topic of reconciliation with First Nations, Popat said he respected City of Victoria’s decision to remove a John A. Macdonald statue from its city hall steps – about a dozen attendees grumbled or booed.

Greaves said First Nation voices need to be heard on all city committees, and incumbent councillors Gill and Hayne made note of the city’s plan to provide water and sewer to the Semiahmoo First Nation reserve.

McCallum said there needs to be more recognition of the Semiahmoo Trail, and Nantel said he would meet with “stakeholders.”

Cannabis is to be legalized across the country Oct. 17, three days before the general election. Candidates were asked for their plans and what they intend to do about home grow.

Gill said he only supports government retail stores, and only wants to see one government-run pot shop in the city for the first two years. Nantel said he’s against home grow, and Popat said it needs to be regulated. Wolanski made it clear he’s a supporter of cannabis, telling the crowd to “let people live.”

Hayne said it is important to zone for cannabis away from schools and parks. McCallum made note of issues with the “tremendous smell,” and said he’d take a “wait and see attitude.” Greaves said it’s an area that needs exploration.

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