From proposed NBA teams to safe-injection sites, no topic was off limits at Wednesday night’s forum featuring Surrey’s council candidates.
Hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade and the Fraser Real Estate Board, and mediated by radio personality Travis Goodman, councillor candidates were given the opportunity to respond to questions posed by a panel of experts and the crowd of more than 100 on topics including taxes, crime, homelessness and transit.
Surrey’s seven mayoral candidates were not part of proceedings, as SBOT and South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce will cohost them at the same location on Nov. 4 at noon.
Each councillor candidate received 10 opportunities – in the form of blue slips – to respond to questions. Only five candidates could answer each question, and only one member from each slate.
In response to many of the questions, candidates answered pulling straight from their platforms, with some,after their 90-second response time was up, referring to their websites for more information.
One hot-button issue included a question – asked twice from the audience – that focused on a two-year property tax “freeze” proposed by the Safe Surrey Coalition and the One Surrey Coalition.
Retired firefighter Mike Starchuk (Surrey First) pointed out that his team was not one of the slates that promised a tax freeze.
“If I want to go back 15 years ago when somebody froze taxes, I can tell you about the scariest job I ever had,” he said. “When we go into a building when everyone is running out, we look pretty stupid, but really when you’re running inside a building with less people than you need, that’s retarded.”
Starchuk’s comment was rebuked minutes later by real-estate agent Stephen Gammer (TeamSurrey), who noted the term “retarded” is insensitive.
In response to a question about about economic-development strategies, independent candidate Touraj Ghanbar-Zadeh elicited murmurs from the crowd by noting the city lacks attractions.
“We’re not on the world map, because we don’t really have anything to offer the world,” he said, noting that Surrey residents travel out of the city for attractions including the PNE, the Vancouver Aquarium and Aldergrove zoo.
Ghanbar-Zadeh said his three-part strategy would be to bring an international airport to Surrey, as well as a professional NBA team and a Disney-style theme park along the Fraser River.
Several candidates focused on improving life in Surrey for residents.
Of the candidates who responded to an audience member’s question on bringing a safe-injection site to Surrey, real-estate agent Cliff Blair (independent) was the only one to speak out against the facility.
“There is no such thing as a safe-injection site. You can’t be putting these chemicals in your body safely,” he said, with people in the audience visibly and audibly disagreeing. “Bottom line is any drug addict who has overcome the desire to do drugs has done it with absolute abstinence. You cannot wean yourself off that.
“I’m not at all in favour of safe-drug sites, certainly not in my backyard.”
On the thread of crime and justice, candidates spoke favourably about creating a Surrey community court for repeat offenders.
Former VPD officer Kal Dosanj (One Surrey) noted the community court is an “essential component” to decreasing crime, along with community safety officers and adopting a “no call is too small” program in the city.
He noted that when a community court was introduced in the Downtown Eastside, it was an “immediate and effective plan.”
On the topic of transit, candidates agreed Surrey needs more accessibility and increased service, with Rina Gill (Safe Surrey) noting that her slate has a “comprehensive, multi-faceted five-point plan” that includes funding for Light Rail Transit (LRT) and increased community shuttle buses.
Incumbent Barbara Steele (Surrey First) noted that LRT is the plan for Surrey, with plans already in motion after consulting with the province and federal government.
“Surrey is next,” she said.
The 2½-hour forum also focused on density, Surrey Fraser Docks, coal trains, homelessness and affordable housing, among other topics.
Surrey voters cast their ballots for their choice of mayor, eight councillors and six school trustees on Nov. 15.