Surrey’s election became one-part referendum on Mayor Doug McCallum’s leadership and one-part referendum on whether to swap police forces.
In the end, Coun. Brenda Locke emerged from the crowded field of four party-affiliated challengers to lead her Surrey Connect team to majority status on the council dominated by her former party, the Safe Surrey Coalition.
Locke rocketed to an early lead after polls closed on Oct. 15, with Surrey First’s Gordie Hogg running a surprise second most of the night. McCallum caught up as the count progressed, after he made his concession speech. The final tally was 33,311 votes for Locke and 32,338 for McCallum. Turnout improved, from 32.9% in 2018 to 34.5%.
Four of Locke’s Surrey Connect candidates were elected. Surrey First now has two seats, the same as Safe Surrey Coalition, whose Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra get a second term.
The defeat for McCallum most certainly spells the end of the 78-year-old’s roller coaster political career. Though, he is making a last-ditch effort to prolong that career, after an Oct. 17 announcement that lawyers might ask a B.C. Supreme Court judge to order a recount over the 973-vote difference.
He made a comeback in 2018 after previously serving as mayor from 1996 to 2002. In 2005, former council ally Dianne Watts defeated McCallum and spent nine years in office.
Locke said she isn’t waiting until she’s sworn-in to take the first steps on her marquee promise, to end the Surrey Police Service.
“Right away, I’m going to start with a having a conversation with the officer in charge at Surrey RCMP, that’s going to be my first order of business,” Locke said. “And then I will also be talking to Dwayne McDonald of the E Division, that’s going to be my second order of business and then we’ll take it from there. But I have already started having the conversation because obviously, this isn’t new to anybody, especially not to our staff.”
It won’t be her only priority. Big decisions are coming in the first 100 days to consult the public and pass a budget by the end of the calendar year. Last year, McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition held hearings during the Christmas rush, which suppressed public participation.
“We will be going around the city, and I have said this before, we will be setting out a path where we go right into community, into the town centres and talk to residents about what the budget consultation piece that looks like,” she said. “That’s critically important.”
Locke will talk to TransLink about transportation needs and the school board to find out how city hall can help with the ongoing calls to replace portable classrooms with new buildings.
“I’m also going to try and get bilateral meetings with all of our cities that neighbour us, so I want to talk to the mayors of of Langley, White Rock and Delta, and Semiahmoo First Nation.”
For Locke, it is the end of a long, sporadic climb to power. At 67, she was the second youngest of the five main contestants for top office in B.C.’s second-biggest city.
Prior to running for city council in 2018, Locke had a single term as a BC Liberal MLA in the Surrey-Green Timbers riding from 2001 to 2005, part of Gordon Campbell’s record 77-member caucus.
Before then, Locke had worked in youth social services in Richmond and headed the B.C. Liquor Licensee Retailers Association. During her last two years as an MLA, she was Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction. While out of politics, she became executive director of the B.C. Massage Therapists Association.
But she couldn’t stay away from politics. She tried four times to get back into public office, twice as a federal Liberal in Fleetwood-Port Kells, losing both times to Conservative Nina Grewal in 2006 and 2008. Her first foray into the municipal arena was an 18th place finish for the 2014 city council election. Three years later, in the 2017 provincial election, Locke failed to regain her old seat after NDP veteran Sue Hammell retired.
She was finally successful in returning to public office a year later under McCallum, but split in mid-2019 over McCallum’s leadership style in general and, specifically, the rising costs of the RCMP transition.
Locke became a natural ally with the grassroots Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign and teamed up with another ex-McCallum candidate, Jack Hundial, under the new Surrey Connect banner.
Hundial and Locke became a tag team, effectively critiquing McCallum’s tax measures, service cuts and increasingly paranoid use of closed door meetings to decide policy. Hundial did not run in the election because he moved to Penticton for professional reasons.
In late August, to start his re-election campaign, McCallum tried to change the channel, grabbing headlines with a sudden promise to build a 60,000-seat stadium at Fraser Highway and 164th, west of the Surrey Sport and Leisure Complex. For part of one news cycle, at least, McCallum shifted attention away from his past to the future. It didn’t last long.
Locke was quick to brand it a “white elephant for millionaire athletes.”
The Fleetwood Community Association wants a cultural centre and sports fields on the site. As Glacier Media learned via freedom of information, there was no proof that McCallum had ever discussed building a billion-dollar stadium anywhere in Surrey with staff.
The focus quickly shifted back to McCallum.
The Oct. 15 defeat, however, doesn’t mean McCallum can simply leave the public eye and retire to his Crescent Beach home. He faces a five-day Provincial Court trial beginning Oct. 31 on charges of public mischief, after his allegations that a pro-RCMP petitioner ran over his foot in a supermarket parking lot more than a year ago backfired.
There are also new questions about the taxpayer-provided vehicle McCallum has driven, after Hundial circulated a photograph showing it had sustained damage sometime this weekend.
Surrey RCMP confirmed it has been in contact with city hall over damage to one of its vehicles, after a report from a city employee on Sunday morning. “Investigators will be following up with involved parties to determine the cause of the damages,” said the statement from the Surrey detachment.
McCallum has not responded for comment.
During the campaign, Locke promised a suite of anti-corruption measures, such as hiring an ethics commissioner, introducing new conflict of interest rules, whistleblower protections, advocating for municipal recall laws and rolling-back the $10 freedom of information application fee that Safe Surrey Coalition imposed.
McCallum adopted the NDP government’s fee, one that Vancouver doesn’t charge. Locke and Surrey First Coun. Linda Annis were the only councillors to vote against the fee early this year. Many residents have been stymied in their attempts to find out how much McCallum has billed taxpayers for high-profile lawyer Richard Peck’s defence in the public mischief case. Locke said it will be a priority to claw that money back.
“Huge concern to the residents of this city, they do not want to pay his [legal] bills, and I don’t believe they should. We will be asking our city legal [department] to figure out a way to get that money back and to make Mr. McCallum pay for his legal bills.”
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