Seven candidates for mayor had their chance to win over the business community on Tuesday at Eaglequest Coyote Creek Golf Club.
About 170 people packed the golf course banquet hall to hear mayoral hopefuls at an all-candidates’ meeting sponsored by the Surrey Board of Trade.
After their opening statements, candidates were asked several questions in a tightly controlled setting.
First, they were asked what their economic strategy is for this city.
Independent Vikram Bajwa said Surrey needs an international airport.
Inddependent John Edwards told the crowd Surrey needs a convention centre and a third university.
Surrey First’s Linda Hepner said there’s huge interest from business to locate in the city. She said it’s important to keep costs low for businesses while forging ahead with ideas like Innovation Boulevard (the health sector hub between SFU Surrey and Surrey Memorial Hospital). The same methods can be used for agriculture and advanced manufacturing, she said.
Safe Surrey Coalition’s Doug McCallum said a good economic strategy starts with a sound foundation, which includes a safe city and well-considered policy.
Once those things are established, he said the city would be ripe for a microchip manufacturing plant, saying that Campbell Heights in South Surrey is perfect for such a facility.
One Surrey’s Barinder Rasode said the city has to protect its industrial land base.
“I want nothing more for my three children than not to have to cross a bridge to get to work,” Rasode said.
She also said it’s crucial to support small businesses by making their communities safer and streamlining processes at city hall.
Independent Grant Rice said there needs to be a greater focus on agriculture, as it outpaces most other industries in B.C.
Rice said Surrey should work with agricultural firms to further refine their product before shipping abroad.
Independent John Wolanski said Surrey should implement apprenticeship programs.
Candidates were asked if they supported reducing the marginal effective tax rate on new business investment as a policy priority.
McCallum said he was opposed to such a notion because it would benefit new businesses while negatively affecting existing ones.
Rasode said other costs should be reduced for businesses, such as the price of permits and the time it takes to get them.
“So I think we have to look there to make sure those costs stay low,” Rasode said.
Hepner said Surrey has a single permit fee, which benefits business, and a mobile app, with which they can apply for one.
In regards the lower marginal tax rate, Hepner said the idea requires “more analysis” rather than just saying “let’s do it.“
“I don’t think we can, I don’t think as a city we’re positioned to do it,” Hepner said.
Surrey’s taxes are already low, she said, adding “I don’t know where we would find those savings.“
Asked to wrap up, one candidate said he could bring a divisive group together.
Rice said he’s heard the main three candidates in debate and said it wasn’t pretty.
“The big three don’t play well in the sandbox,” Rice said in one of the lighter moments of the debate. He noted that it will be extremely tough for them to lead a divided council.
He can manage it, he said.
“I work at community building, this is my background,” Rice said. “I will work with compassion and leadership.“
The civic election will be held Saturday, Nov. 15.