COLUMN: Lessons from a landslide

Surrey city council’s lack of opposition troubling

It would have been so much easier for school trustee Ijaz Chatha, had he followed his fellow Surrey Civic Coalition (SCC) members Terry Allen and Laurie Larsen over to Surrey First Education (SFE).

The two former SCC trustees joined with the three other Surrey trustees on the board of education in January to form SFE. Chatha chose not to, and lost his seat as a trustee on Saturday, likely as a direct result.

It was part of the complete sweep of Surrey council and almost-complete takeover of the board of education by Surrey First and its affiliate, SFE. Surrey First won all nine seats on council by resounding margins, while all five SFE candidates were well ahead of their competitors in the board election.

The lone SCC candidate to win was Charlene Dobie, who placed sixth to win the last seat on the board. Chatha finished 12th. Dobie was more than 18,000 votes behind fifth-place finisher Reni Masi of SFE. The seventh board member is current chair Laurae McNally, who won her White Rock seat by acclamation.

While Chatha’s loss was disappointing to SCC, perhaps the biggest blow was the sound defeat of longtime councillor and former mayor Bob Bose, who had been the lone SCC voice on council for years.

Bose was first elected in 1978 with Surrey Voters Association (SVA), and later served as mayor under the Surrey Civic Electors, an arm of the provincial NDP,  for nine years. After he lost the mayor’s chair to Doug McCallum in 1996, he was re-elected to council and has served with distinction since that time. He has often been the lone voice of opposition to Surrey First.

While Bose finished ninth, he was almost 8,000 votes behind eighth-place Barinder Rasode. Surrey First newcomer Bruce Hayne finished seventh with more than 36,000 votes, almost 11,000 ahead of Bose.

Clearly, Surrey First and SFE are in complete control of both local governments. This is largely due to the enormous popularity of Mayor Dianne Watts, who took 80 per cent of the vote, despite the fact that she had six opponents.

Watts has built the electoral organization behind her as one that is largely non-partisan, including councillors and trustees who back either the Liberals or the NDP provincially.

Watts has a clear vision of where she wants Surrey to go, and she has a confidence that voters have bought into. Criticism of some of her policies during the campaign failed to stick at all.

This may be the first council where all members are from the same group. The SVA, which dominated council in the 1970s, had eight of nine members at one time, but never held all nine seats.

SCC has some soul searching to do. It chose not to run a candidate against Watts, which meant it had less profile in the media coverage, which often revolves around the mayor’s race.

SCC has done little to build a broader coalition with the anti-Watts forces. Soild independents like Paul Hillsdon or Anne Van Rhyn haven’t been part of SCC, which is almost totally run by NDP operatives.

The SCC poor finish is particularly surprising, considering how well the NDP did in the recent federal election in Surrey. Surely some of those voters could be induced to vote SCC. Maybe there simply aren’t enough of them, when weighed against voters all across the city.

While Watts will do a good job of moving the city forward, the lack of opposition on council is troubling. It will be interesting to see if any Surrey First councillors will be willing to go against her on substantial issues.

Watts said on election night that transportation and transit are her top issues. She needs to play hardball with both TransLink and the province on this front, particularly as Surrey residents face the spectre of paying tolls to use the Port Mann Bridge, or chafe as fully-loaded buses sail past their stops.

The election was just the first step in a three-year journey. Surrey First has been given a massive amount of trust, and will now have to repay that trust with concrete action.

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

 

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