COLUMN: No summer reprieve from politics this year

There could be 50 or more people on the ballot for Surrey council

After months of virtual silence, politicians (current and would-be) are busy announcing their candidacies, discussing pressing Surrey issues and hinting that they are the only individuals with the answer to all the city’s problems.

The only reason for all this chatter in late July is the Oct. 20 municipal election. During past election years, there was rarely much political activity during the summer months. That was largely due to the fact that elections were held in the third week of November, a month later.

Last week, Langley East MLA Rich Coleman announced he was not running for mayor of Surrey. His ties to Surrey have been minimal, and controversy over his role in the oversight of casinos when the BC Liberals were in power would have definitely impacted his chances of winning.

It seems that many others were waiting to see what he would do. Almost immediately, former mayor Doug McCallum announced he was running and would be part of a full slate. McCallum ran in 2015 with the Safe Surrey Coalition slate, but finished more than 20,000 votes behind Linda Hepner.

On Monday, current councillor Bruce Hayne said he would be running for mayor. He left the dominant Surrey First slate in June, and said at the time he would run for either councillor or mayor. He plans to run a partial slate to ensure there are diverse voices on council. Among those on his slate will be incumbent Barbara Steele, who has had some sort of fallout with Surrey First councillor and mayoral candidate Tom Gill.

That means that, as of right now, there are three well-known people running for mayor – incumbent councillors Gill with Surrey First and Hayne with his slate, and former mayor McCallum.

Of the other Surrey First incumbent councillors, only Vera LeFranc, Mike Starchuk and Dave Woods appear to be sticking with Surrey First, although the slate has yet to announce its council candidates. Other than Steele, the public has no idea who will run with the other two slates.

Three other slates – Surrey Community Alliance, Proudly Surrey and People First Surrey – are also running. Best-known of all their candidates announced thus far are Stuart Parker, former BC Green Party leader, who is running for councillor with Proudly Surrey; and Doug Elford, president of Surrey Community Alliance and a longtime Newton-area activist. He is also running for councillor.

That means there will likely be at least six slates with candidates for council seats. This is an all-time record for Surrey, which has often had three slates contesting for votes in the past, but never had double that number. There could be 50 or more people on the ballot for councillor. Eight will be elected.

It’s a tough time to be an incumbent, despite the advantages that they traditionally have. In Surrey, that includes name recognition and a fat war chest to run what needs to be an expensive campaign.

Many challenging issues have come up in recent years, including policing, gang violence, Hawthorne Park, LRT vs. SkyTrain, secondary suites and costs of housing. Incumbent councillors, including both Gill and Hayne, have to bear responsibility for those issues. They will be facing a lot of angry voters.

Voters seem, in general, to be in an angry mood these days. Even in Burnaby, where longtime mayor Derek Corrigan has ruled as a one-party principality for many years, and apathy is the most popular party with most residents, there is plenty of heat. There, council is doing a 180-degree turn on “demovictions” in Metrotown. It is not out of any sudden concern for renters who are thrown out of affordable accommodation and have nowhere to go.

August is traditionally a month when there is no news about local governments. Most councils don’t meet and many elected officials escape their responsibilities for several weeks. That likely won’t be the case this year.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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