COLUMN: A year of big changes in Surrey and White Rock

It was quite a year.

In Surrey in particular, the year was one of the most noteworthy in many decades. There were three very significant moves in new and quite different directions. There were some very significant changes in White Rock, too.

Two of the three moves in Surrey came as a direct result of the complete change of faces on Surrey council in the October, 2018 election. These are the switch from LRT to SkyTrain and the planned formation of a new Surrey Police force, to take over policing from Surrey RCMP. The third move in a new direction is the province’s announcement late in the year that a new hospital will be built in Cloverdale .

In White Rock, the biggest challenge was met as the result of a lot of effort and co-operation – rebuilding of the pier after its centre section was destroyed in a fierce storm on Dec. 20, 2018. The big move in a new direction is a reduction in density, involving highrises, in upper White Rock.

Doug McCallum campaigned for the mayor’s chair in 2018 and won it with 41 per cent of the vote, largely as a result of two big promises and a fortuitous set of circumstances.

One was his promise to replace the planned LRT system with SkyTrain; the other was to replace Surrey RCMP with a city police force. The favourable circumstances were a split in the ruling Surrey First slate, which had held all nine council seats for seven years – until it broke apart a few months before the election, largely over who should be the mayoralty candidate. The result was two slates in the place of one, with the mayoralty candidates (both incumbent councillors) almost evenly splitting 51 per cent of the vote. This made it easy for former mayor McCallum to come up the middle.

The SkyTrain promise has been partially fulfilled. There’s not enough money to get it all the way to Langley when construction starts, but most area residents are far more enthusiastic about SkyTrain and appear willing to wait a little longer for the complete line to be built.

The police issue is very different. McCallum has forged ahead and won conditional approval from the province to set up a Surrey Police force, but with significant restraints. Notably, the entire process is being overseen by former judge and attorney-general Wally Oppal.

McCallum has lost three of his councillors elected as part of his slate, in part due to his approach to policing. Just last week, details of a public consultation process finally came out, eight months after the fact, and they show a public that is far from united on the switch. The final council meeting of the year, which featured residents on both sides of the issue yelling at each other and council members in the midst of a vote on the 2020 budget, showed just how ugly the whole situation has become. The mayor has hardly been a healing force.

The hospital of course is something virtually all Surrey residents are behind. They know the area is badly underserved, and that growth is continuing. They welcome the province taking decisive action on this issue. However, a new hospital is still many years away.

In White Rock, the public has a been solidly behind council’s approach to fixing the pier. Mayor Darryl Walker has shown good leadership on the issue. He is hardly “unfit for office,” as his predecessor, Wayne Baldwin, said in the run-up to the last election.

On the density issue, many White Rock residents back council’s approach. Developers aren’t as keen, and some of the restrictions that have been brought in are being challenged in court.

The new year will see plenty of action on all these issues, and many others.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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