South Surrey’s only all-candidates meeting – held at the Rotary Field House Monday – touched on a number of contentious issues facing the city.
Nearly 100 people came to hear civic candidates’ responses to Semiahmoo Residents Association questions on matters ranging from public safety to Surrey’s annual economic summit.
Questions were posed in an unusual format in order to accommodate as many answers as possible on seven subjects. Candidates were all asked a question, initially only being able to answer “yes” or “no.” After everyone had answered, each could use one of three ‘green cards’ to answer in detail.
The first divisive question of the night asked if candidates agreed Surrey’s crime rate had gone down and, if so, what they would do to continue the trend.
All attending candidates from the Surrey First slate – incumbents Linda Hepner, Barinder Rasode, Barbara Steele, Judy Villeneuve, Marvin Hunt, first-time candidate Bruce Hayne and mayoral incumbent Dianne Watts – agreed the crime rate had gone down, a statement echoed by independents Paul Griffin, Imtiaz Popat, Judy Higginbotham and Bernadette Keenan.
The Surrey Civic Coalition was split on the answer, with Bob Bose and Stephanie Ryan agreeing the rate had gone down, and Grant Rice, Doug Elford and Gary Robinson – as well as independents Deanna Welters, Touraj Ghanbar-Zadeh and Ross Buchanan – saying it had not.
When it came time to give detailed answers, mayoral-candidate Buchanan called a Nov. 7 progress report on Surrey’s Crime Reduction Strategy “bogus,” saying it should be called a “regress report.”
“The odds of being stabbed or shot at night in Surrey is 300 per cent – three times greater – than in Portland or Seattle,” Buchanan said.
Elford agreed with Buchanan, adding that the solution is more police on the street. However, Rasode said statistics show the crime rate has gone down.
The Surrey Regional Economic Summit, held in October, was another point of contention because of the presence of keynote speaker George W. Bush. Candidates were asked whether the invitation to the former U.S. president was beneficial to Surrey’s reputation. Only members of Surrey First agreed it was.
When asked if candidates would continue the summits, independents Buchanan, Ghanbar-Zadeh and Popat and SCC members – with the exception of Ryan – said they would not.
Bose said Watts showed an “incredible lack of good judgment” when she invited Bush to the summit. Rice agreed with Bose, adding that inviting Bush was “insulting to our Muslim brothers and sisters” and that he was “ashamed” on behalf of residents.
Watts was quick to address Rice’s statement when she spoke in favour of the summit, saying community members from all backgrounds attended.
“We do have a Muslim (present) that was at the summit, and I don’t believe he was offended,” Watts said.
Rice sparred with a second Surrey First member when the SCC candidate said the city was “almost bankrupt” and that Surrey had “drained” its reserves. Hunt, who had chaired Surrey’s finance committee in previous years, refuted Rice’s statement, saying the city has more than $500 million in reserves and that he had “no idea” what Rice was talking about.
Despite the flare-ups, the candidates did agree on some issues, including that gas taxes should not be raised to fund TransLink projects. Hunt was the only candidate who would not give a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ saying it was not a simple answer.
Other question topics included Surrey’s green space, the city’s lower-than-average taxes and multiple city centres.
The meeting was hosted by the Semiahmoo residents group, after earlier debate plans were cancelled by the South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce due to financial constraints.
Election day is Saturday.