COLUMN: Time for a return to wards in Surrey

Surrey residents would benefit from return of system

A competitive race for mayor in this fall’s election in Surrey has brought the issue of wards to the fore.

Once a topic that only the longshots were willing to talk about, the issue of neighbourhood representation on council is now mainstream. Former mayor Doug McCallum kicked off the discussion, by saying when he announced his candidacy that wards would be implemented after he is elected.

Surrey First candidate, Coun. Linda Hepner, is the least enthusiastic (not surprising, given how her slate benefits from the at-large system of electing councillors), but she is willing to hold a referendum on the topic in 2018. Assuming such a referendum passed, it would be at least 2022 – eight years from now – before there would be election of candidates in wards, which essentially are the equivalent of the provincial or federal ridings Surrey citizens are used to.

Coun. Barinder Rasode, who is also planning to run for mayor, says she is hearing a lot about wards from residents. She favours a hybrid system, with some councillors elected at-large, in the entire city, and some in wards. She sees no need for a referendum, but would like extensive public consultation.

Vikram Bajwa, who has run for mayor before and is running again this year, says wards are “nine years overdue,” but he still wants a referendum on the issue first.

I’ve argued many times in this space for wards, and here’s the Coles Notes version of why Surrey needs such a system of electing at least some members of council.

One is that it is prohibitively expensive to run for office in a city the size of Surrey, and reach hundreds of thousands of potential voters. Face-to-face contact is impossible. Unless a candidate is very wealthy, it is impossible to mount an effective campaign and reach most voters through advertising, flyers or social media.

Thus the candidates who win are in almost always one way or the other part of a slate or electoral group – Surrey First, Surrey Electors Team, Surrey Civic Electors, Surrey Municipal Electors or Surrey Voters Association – over the past 40 years.

The last true independent to run and win a seat on council was Jeanne Eddington in the 1990s, who had a high profile before she ran the first time, due to her citizen activism. It took her several tries to get elected, and she never won her seat by large margins.

A second argument for wards is that people can more easily get through to a council member who is familiar with their neighbourhood and its specific issues. Most candidates who will win, if wards are established, will be residents of that area. They will know it intimately and be responsive to issues raised by their neighbours.

This is not to say that at-large councillors don’t try to get familiar with neighbourhood issues, but Surrey is too large, both geographically and in population, for any of them to know the entire city well.

A third argument is that wards will boost voter turnout. Every part of Canada outside B.C. has wards in larger cities. A truly local election involves candidates actively campaigning in neighbourhoods and seeking support in a more personal fashion. When my son was going to university in Kingston, Ont., he was approached by several candidates for council in his ward, on the doorstep, who asked for support. Kingston is much smaller than Surrey, with a population of about 100,000.

Boosting voter turnout in local elections is critical, because local governments make decisions that affect all of us every day. A higher turnout in Surrey elections, particularly as they will now be four years apart, is something all candidates should support.

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

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Chief Constable Norm Lipinski, Surrey Police Service. (Submitted photo)
Surrey Police Service to begin public consultation late June, early July

Community input, chief constable says, ‘will occur’

Surrey RCMP reunited three stolen puppies with their mom. (RCMP handout)
Puppies stolen from South Surrey home located, reunited with mom

Surrey RCMP said they found the stolen puppies on April 16

Welcome to your park sign marks the spot where 84th Avenue will continue east from King George Boulevard 
to 140th Street as part of a $13 million road project. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Road Rage: Opposition mounts anew to Surrey’s plan for 84 Ave. at south end of Bear Creek Park

Same place, same project, same fight as Surrey prepares once again to connect 84th Avenue between King George and 140th Street in Newton

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

John Wekking, Merritt Road Report - Facebook
 Coquihalla Road Report
Wildfire sparks off Coquihalla in Merritt

The wildfire is located near the Dollarama off of Highway 5

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read