COLUMN: Intense interest to lead our most desirable cities

Elections are a time to talk about local issues, and how best to deal with them.

Elections are a time to talk about local issues, and how best to deal with them.

Thus far, a good number of issues have come up in the three local elections underway.

In Delta, planning and the future look of North Delta and Tsawwassen have been hot topics. A debate among the four mayoral candidates last week revealed some clear differences. Voters will have some tough decisions to make.

As one who does not live in Delta, but has closely observed its politics for the past 30 years, I remain puzzled as to why the Southlands property (formerly known as Spetifore) continues to dominate political discussions. There are so many other issues that are important in Delta, yet they rarely seem to get the attention they deserve.

For example, North Delta is home to half of Delta’s population and has some major traffic challenges as a result of the growth of neighbouring Surrey. Yet the issue of how North Delta will develop, and what services will be offered to residents, don’t get the attention they deserve.

Incumbent mayor Lois Jackson, as a North Delta resident, has ensured that North Delta is not forgotten, but a great deal of her energy in past terms has gone into South Delta issues, such as Southlands, Deltaport expansion and the Tsawwassen treaty.

At one time, North Delta was the shopping destination for many Surrey residents, as development on the Surrey side of Scott Road was minimal. That is no longer the case. Does it have to stay that way?

In Surrey, mayoral challenger Ross Buchanan has asked some tough questions about council’s decision to build a new city hall in Whalley, to cement its position as the city centre. These are good questions, but it is important to focus on more than just the amount of money involved.

For years, Surrey has struggled to get the private sector to invest in Whalley. Part of the problem was the pattern of land ownership, but a big issue was that government wasn’t leading the way.

In fact, it was the provincial government which did the leading. First, it extended SkyTrain to Whalley, with Social Credit approving the funding and the NDP overseeing it and officially opening the extension.

Under the NDP government, ICBC bought Surrey Place and renamed it Central City, and a tower which now houses SFU was built. This was the single biggest impetus for private sector development in the area.

Only in very recent years has the city come aboard, recently opening a new Whalley Library. Now it is building a new city hall. It has also built a community centre and rebuilt Holland Park as a civic gathering place that was, most notably, the scene of amazing gatherings during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A recent report by the Real Estate Investment Network says Surrey will have the hottest real estate market in the province over the next three to five years, and perhaps surprising to some, it predicts Surrey will surpass Vancouver in population within the next decade.

This is a key issue for all Surrey candidates to focus on.

Then there’s White Rock, which long ago was Surrey’s Ward 7 until it broke away in 1957. The election there is a heated one, with no incumbent mayor running, and a great deal of discussion revolves around whether Surrey and White Rock will eventually merge again.

Ultimately, that decision will be up to White Rock voters, unless the province intervenes (as it did in 1957, when White Rock left Surrey due to a bill that was passed in the provincial legislature).

However, White Rock residents are right to think carefully about the future, because their city, just like Surrey and Delta, is one of the most desirable places in Canada to live. How all three cities adapt to the intense interest by so many outside investors and prospective residents will be up to the new councils elected on Nov. 19.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

 

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