Can there be any doubt that Doug McCallum is Surrey’s top newsmaker for 2018?
To call profound the historic changes Surrey’s new mayor has made, and aims to make, to both the political and literal landscape of this city is approximating understatement.
McCallum, age 73, was Surrey’s mayor from 1996 to 2005, under the now-defunct Surrey Electors Team. Having lost the mayor’s seat to Dianne Watts in 2005, and his attempt to reclaim it in 2014, McCallum is once again mayor for a fourth term, following a 13-year break in between.
He’s a polarizing figure. You’re either a fan, or you’re not — few are ambivalent to this take-charge mayor.
Here are the highlights of this newsmaker’s year.
First, the political.
The Now-Leader broke the news in July that McCallum wanted his old job back. He came out swinging, trumpeting big plans for Surrey, seismic change at city hall and putting the brakes on development, favouring a “smart” variety instead.
“We’re going to pause development because when you have fast-growing growth, you’ve got to get the infrastructure in behind it,” he explained. “In the last four years, it’s been the highest – 12,000 people a year, probably more coming in – and the infrastructure in the city over those years hasn’t caught up.”
This infrastructure, he said, includes things like schools, transit, hospitals, playing fields and parks and recreation.
“I think it’s how all cities in the world evolve – not in a straight line, but in a line that addresses growth. And I think we’re in a period now where we need to get our infrastructure caught up to our growth. So that’s why we’re suggesting we’re going to pause development and turn to smart development, and smart development means exactly that – getting the infrastructure caught up to our growth.
“It also means, as far as development, that we do the development, densify along the transit corridors that we create.”
At the polls, McCallum came up through the middle of a Surrey First schism, precipitated by former mayor Linda Hepner not seeking re-election, Councillor Tom Gill running in her stead, and former Surrey First Councillors Bruce Hayne, Barbara Steele and Dave Woods breaking away to form their own slate, Integrity Now.
He won 45,484 votes to Gill’s 28,473 and Hayne’s 27,951. All told, out of an estimated 337,289 eligible voters in Surrey, 109,791 votes were cast in this election for a voter turnout of 32.5 per cent.
Now, the literal.
Not only did McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition end Surrey First’s 12-year dynasty on council — securing eight of nine seats — but on the very night this new council was sworn in, on Nov. 5, it also brought an end to Surrey First’s controversial pet project, light rail transit
Surrey Doug McCallum is sworn in, just minutes before voting to end the RCMP contract with the city. (City of Surrey photo)
The first phase of this project alone would have cost $1.65 billion, for a Surrey-Newton-Guildford network.
McCallum and his team instead intend to expand SkyTrain from Whalley eastward along Fraser Highway, to Langley City.
“It’s going to be an exciting time in Surrey over the next few years and I think it’s going to change the whole face of Surrey over the next four years, in a good way.”
“Surrey’s gonna shine,” he said.
While TransLink has indicated, based on a 2017 estimates report, that the 16.5-kilometre SkyTrain expansion would cost $2.9 billion, McCallum insists it can be done for $1.65 billion.
McCallum’s second herculean undertaking — also loosed from the gate at council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5 — was serving notice to the provincial and federal governments that Surrey is ending its contract with the RCMP, which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951, to set up its own force.
Some say why bother, but McCallum argues the city would be better served by this, and maintains the transition can be done within two years.
The new mayor and council appointed Terry Waterhouse Surrey’s general manager, police transition.
Waterhouse has told the Now-Leader that ”definitely it’s an ambitious project and we are aware that a police-in-transition of this size has not happened before in Canada, and so yes we know it’s ambitious but we’re confident that it can happen in the time stipulated.”
Beside these major items, McCallum has also generated high drama by crafting a controversial budget that will see the postponement of some arts and sports-related projects, after he rang the alarm, claiming Surrey is shouldering a debt of $514 million, contrary to indications in the city’s 2017 financial documents that the debt is actually $267.2 million.
It’s only been a little more than two months since McCallum reclaimed the mayor’s seat. It will be interesting to see how all these developments he’s brought about will play out in 2019.
Until then, can anyone deny that 2018 belonged to this reliable headline maker?
You might well call it Year of the Doug.