Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner and two long-time councillors attended their last Surrey council meeting as politicians Monday night.
Together, Hepner and councillors Mary Martin and Judy Villeneuve have served a combined 55 years on council.
The outgoing mayor, who is not seeking re-election, held back tears as first-time Councillor Vera LeFranc thanked her and the others for their service. The trio were presented with flowers, a mix of lilies, hydrangeas and other buds.
“The bar you have collectively set for future councillors and mayors are extremely high,” said LeFranc during the Oct. 1 meeting, who was acting mayor at the time. “Public life can be challenging and demanding and it goes without saying the three of you have handled it with aplomb and grace.”
LeFranc thanked Hepner for her “incredible leadership and dedication to our city,” noting under the outgoing mayor’s watch, Surrey was the “single largest investment in infrastructure in the City of Surrey’s history,” referring to the Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail transit line that is “fully funded” with $1.2 billion in combined contributions from the provincial and federal government.
LeFranc said Hepner’s other accomplishments included the creation of the Surrey Economic Summit that “brought together presidential and world leaders for an exchange of policy insight.”
“As city councillor, she successfully lobbied to make Surrey an official Olympics partner and celebration site of of the 2010 Winter Games,” LeFranc added.
Hepner teared up as LeFranc thanked the outgoing mayor for her 33 years of service to Surrey, first as a staff member, then as a three-term councillor and finally, as the city’s mayor.
“It takes a strong leader who can ensure the tremendous progress and momentum that Surrey is experiencing continues unabated. Her ability to work with people and all levels of government, regardless of political stripe, has resulted in some record-breaking investment in Surrey,” LeFranc remarked.
LeFranc also took time to praise outgoing councillors Martin and Villeneuve.
Martin, for being “instrumental in advocating for healthy communities,” as well as the numerous committees she served on from finance to climate change.
“I want to especially highlight her work as chair of the Diversity Committee and member of the Multicultural Advisory Committee. Her work with Surrey’s Fusion Festival helped earn the title of best public festival, awarded by the Canadian Event Industry Awards.”
LeFranc noted that Martin was “instrumental in her support of the Surrey Memorial Hospital emergency tower project.”
“As a result of her efforts, the much-needed critical care tower was opened in 2014,” she added.
For her part, Villeneuve is Surrey’s longest serving member of Surrey city council who LeFranc said is “stepping away from public life, but not my life.”
It’s been almost three decades since Villeneuve was first elected in 1981 and she has “helped shape this city in too many ways to count.”
LeFranc said the veteran councillor recognizes “the balance of developing infrastructure and protecting green spaces. Councillor Villeneuve has had the unique opportunity to advocate for smart city planning during a period of growth from when Surrey’s population was at 175,000 to the nearly 550,000 people, residents, that live here today.
“Another area that Councillor Villeneuve played an integral role in Surrey is the development of arts and culture within our city,” LeFranc continued. “As council liaison to the Public Arts Advisory Committee, Councillor Villeneuve helped shaped many of the policies and programs on this front. And, of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the incredible work she has done in helping to fight homelessness in our city. As chair of the social policy committee, Councillor Villeneuve has been a longtime champion of the homeless. In her role she established the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society and Foundation, which was the first of its kind in B.C.
“Councillor Villeneuve, thank you.”
In an interview with the Now-Leader, Villeneuve said “it’s been a privilege” to serve Surrey for three decades. She thanked the support she’s received from the community, and from city staff and her colleagues on Surrey First.
She said her family was in the audience for her final meeting, on Oct. 1.
Looking back at her long political career, Villeneuve said “one reason she was on council for 29 years was because basically, for the first 15 years, I couldn’t get anything done because there wasn’t a majority. It makes a difference in terms of moving a vision forward, otherwise nothing gets done.”
Villeneuve said it wasn’t until she joined Surrey First, and there was a majority that she was able to set up the homelessness and housing society, and other cultural and arts programs.
“It was a major change,” she said of Surrey First’s creation. “For the new people being elected, they should be hopeful they’re there with a team or group of people so they’re in a majority, to be able to achieve what they envision they can do.”
Any other advice?
“You can’t take care of everything,” Villeneuve mused. “What you can do is take care of areas that you really care about, and have a passion for. Council is hard work. It was a part-time job in the late 80s, but now it’s a very full-time job.
“It’s something that stays with you for a lifetime.”
Villeneuve now has her sights set on spending more time with family, particularly her three young grandchildren, and is headed to Vietnam soon after the election is over.
For her part, Martin said “it’s been an honour” to serve the city for 13 years, and prior to that as a parks commissioner.
“I’m so thankful in having been given the opportunity by the community who elected me in 2005 to serve and help create the new vision of building a new metropolitan centre in B.C. We took a new direction from the past, we were bold, innovative and the city took on the vibrancy, busy, diverse, amazing city that it is today.”
Martin choked up as she recalled “always finding a common ground” while perhaps “not necessarily always agreeing” with her colleagues.
“They, today, have become my mentors, my innovators, and my lifelong friends,” she said, pausing as she began to cry. “What I will miss the most are our community members.”
All three outgoing politicians said they looked forward to more time with family, as they move out of the public spotlight.
Martin thanked her husband, who was in the audience, apologizing for “the many alone dinners you had, and the weekends you’ve endured, putting up with the late nights. But Tony, thank you for always being there.”
“So I leave this career behind, but I know that the city is in great hands.”
Hepner, meantime, thanked LeFranc “for the kind recognition.”
“I came in this morning not even remembering this was the last time I was coming to this council,” she remarked.
“This has been my life for 33 years,” said Hepner, “and the honour I have had over the last 13 of those 33 to sit here, as council then as mayor, has been an incredible experience. A great life story that will add to the chapters of my life, hopefully, that I have left to enjoy. I look forward to spending the time with my family, and my grandchildren, particularly, that have gone without grandma a whole lot.”
Hepner stressed how “humbled” she has been working with the staff at city hall.
“I know how much you put your own heart and soul into making sure council has the information we need,” she said. “Hopefully you have a council that sees the vision that we put forth, and is prepared to become the second metropolitan centre of this region, and the biggest city in this province. We are headed for greatness, but we’re headed for greatness with people who are visionary enough to get us there.”
She thanked the public “for allowing me to serve.”
“Now, it’s mic drop,” she smirked. “Motion to adjourn.”
“One last time,” laughed Martin.
Surrey voters head to the polls to elect a new mayor and councillor on Oct. 20.