Doug McCallum wants to make a comeback as mayor of Surrey.
It is a very big hill he wants to climb. He has history and momentum against him.
Very few Surrey mayors have been able to mount comebacks. The last to do so in an effective fashion was Joe Brown, who won the reeve’s chair (the former name for mayor) in December 1940, after being out of office for three years. This was in the midst of the Second World War and voters at that time yearned for stability, which Brown provided.
Bob Nesbitt regained the reeve’s chair for a brief spell after the death of George Hahn in 1961. He had been reeve for four years before Hahn took over in 1960. But Nesbitt only served for about another six months.
In more recent times, Don Ross had been a popular mayor for eight years, and decided to step aside in 1987. When he ran again for his old job in 1990, he was soundly defeated by incumbent Bob Bose.
In this year’s election, it is expected that the mayor’s contest will involve at least two incumbent councillors. Linda Hepner has already been named the Surrey First candidate, and Barinder Rasode is also expected to run.
McCallum’s entry will split the vote, but it is not yet clear which candidate will benefit most from his candidacy.
Based on preliminary comments from Surrey residents after McCallum announced his candidacy on Monday, it seems at this point that he won’t do better than a distant third.
McCallum himself admits he has been away for a long time. It’s nine years since he was defeated by Dianne Watts, who had been part of his Surrey Electors Team before leaving due to number of disagreements with McCallum.
That means momentum is not with him. He is part of an earlier generation of politicians, and convincing people that he has the answers – after having had the power of the mayor’s office for nine years – won’t be easy.
When announcing his candidacy on Monday, McCallum said issues he wants to highlight are crime, the increasing cost of running the city, transportation and a ward system of electing councillors.
Only the last point is a genuine policy issue that he and council could do something about.
The crime issue, while important to residents, is a never-ending one. No one can completely eradicate crime, and the major issue is how police resources are deployed. While there have been some significant gaps, as was illustrated in the murder of Julie Paskall outside Newton Arena on Dec. 31, resolve on the part of council and Surrey RCMP can close most of them quite quickly.
In terms of costs, it is true that the city has borrowed a lot of money for capital projects. However, given Surrey’s unbridled growth, does it really have a choice? To not provide services after letting so much development take place would be irresponsible in the extreme.
Whether a new city hall was necessary is debatable, but it did set the tone for investment in the Surrey City Centre area, and there has been significant private sector investment following the city’s decision to relocate the hall there.
Transportation is a major problem. However, Surrey is just one voice of many at TransLink. The latest plan put forward by mayors does address Surrey’s most pressing needs, but whether the plan will ever come to fruition is a big question.
McCallum has chaired the TransLink board. He knows the challenges facing the region, and the reluctance of the province to allow TransLink access to more taxation options.
Discussion of the ward system would be welcome. The current system, particularly with no limits on campaign spending, favours developer-backed candidates. The size of the city and number of voters means no independent (unless elected first as part of a slate) can ever be elected to council. Thus slates like Surrey First, SET and others have dominated council for years.
There needs to be far more genuine voices from different areas of the city raised at the council table, and a ward system is the only realistic way for that to happen. It will also help voter turnout, as it will be much easier for voters to elect one councillor than try and choose eight.
I wish McCallum and all the other candidates nothing but the best, and I’m sure it will be an exciting race for mayor this fall.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.