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Election 2014: Councillor splits from Surrey First

City of Surrey: Barinder Rasode will run for mayor if Dianne Watts decides to leave muncipal politics.
Barinder Rasode

Saying she is being discouraged from thinking or acting independently, an outspoken Surrey councillor is cutting ties with the Surrey First team.

Effective immediately, Coun. Barinder Rasode is leaving Surrey First, the “coalition of independents” led by Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, that, until now, held every seat on Surrey council.

And Rasode told The Leader if Watts chooses not to run again in November’s civic election, she will be running for mayor.

“I do believe if the mayor’s chair is vacant, I do believe I would make a very strong voice for the residents of Surrey…  a very competent voice as well,” Rasode said in an exclusive interview with The Leader Wednesday at her Cloverdale home.

She said the move to leave Surrey First wasn’t prompted by a potential run for mayor. Her tipping point on the mayor’s coalition came months ago, when Rasode stated publicly that the city needed to revisit its strategy around the Newton Town Centre Plan and called for more police.

The reaction from her fellow councillors, she said, was an “isolating” experience.

“That heightened isolation has led me to re-evaluate how effective I can be in a team environment,” Rasode said.

The push-back she says she’s getting on council is preventing her from doing her job effectively.

“That is my reason for leaving.”

Sounding more like a mayoral candidate than a disgruntled city councillor, Rasode has identified the issues she wants to address as she moves forward.

Key among them are public safety, city spending, public engagement and transparency at city hall.

Rasode said the city needs 45 more police officers as soon as they can be hired. That will bring the city up to the officer-per-population ratio promised in Surrey’s 2007 Crime Reduction Strategy.

“I don’t think we can speak to our community safety model if we’re not willing to hire more officers,” she said.

She wants to see a spending freeze at city hall until public safety matters can be resolved.

She also wants an end to taxpayers’ money being spent on the Surrey Regional Economic Summit, something the mayor has long said was paid for through sponsors and ticket sales.

“The city still makes a contribution,” Rasode revealed. She couldn’t give a dollar figure because the issue was dealt with behind closed doors.

Her proposed spending freeze would include a cap on council expenses for travel junkets and end any additional spending for management positions at city hall.

“Leaner is better, and that would be done in consultation with the city manager and the union,” Rasode said.

Asked if these are issues she’s getting ready to campaign on, Rasode just said they simply need to be addressed.

“It’s not an election platform, I think actually it’s part of the brand that Surrey First moved forward on, and I think they’ve moved off that brand.”

She stressed the mayor’s chair is taken and until she hears differently, she’s running for councillor in November.

That said, she believes she would be a good mayor.

“When I look at the role of the mayor being the statesperson for the Cty of Surrey, it’s about recognizing strengths, bringing people to the table…” Rasode said. “I’m a consensus builder, I’m an advocate on behalf of community. I think engaging the other levels of government in a different fashion is very important for the City of Surrey.

“My passion is to put the concerns of the residents of Surrey first, and my record speaks very clearly on that,” she said. “I’m not afraid to champion issues, and I’m also not afraid to make very tough decisions.”

She said she didn’t come to the decision to leave Surrey First lightly.

“I’m doing this with a heavy heart,” Rasode said. “I have the utmost of respect for my colleagues as individuals and the work that they are doing for the City of Surrey.”

Surrey First Coun. Linda Hepner told The Leader in March she was testing the waters for mayoral support should Watts  decide not to run.

Coun. Bruce Hayne said at the time he would think about running for mayor if Watts wasn't in the race, and Coun. Tom Gill said he might also. The remaining councillors either said they hadn't thought about a mayoralty run or outright rejected the idea.