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People gather on the plaza outside the new Surrey City Hall during the official opening in April. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)
People gather on the plaza outside the new Surrey City Hall during the official opening in April. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum hints at candidacy Add to ...

A former Surrey mayor – ousted nine years ago by one-time fellow councillor Dianne Watts – is expected to run again for his old job in this fall’s civic election.

Doug McCallum has pointedly called a news conference for Monday at Surrey’s former city hall. He has harshly criticized Ms. Watts’s decision to build a new $100-million city hall that opened earlier this year, reflecting efforts by Ms. Watts and her Surrey First party, which has a majority on council, to build a new downtown.

It is widely anticipated that he will launch a bid to win back the mayoralty. Mr. McCallum was unavailable for comment Friday, but the advisory on Monday’s event says he “proudly” served the city as mayor for nine years, and “will make an announcement regarding his future” before taking media questions.

“It makes the race far more interesting,” said political scientist Patrick Smith of Simon Fraser University. “He will have supporters and detractors, but he is not a shrinking violet. Candidates will have to react [to Mr. McCallum].”

Ms. Watts, who once denounced a “culture of control” at city hall under then-mayor Mr. McCallum, has announced she is stepping down after three terms as mayor. Until Friday, the race to succeed her was shaping up as a contest between two key candidates vying to lead the diverse city southeast of Vancouver that is growing by about 800 new residents a month.

There is Linda Hepner, a municipal civil servant turned Surrey First councillor with her election in 2005, whom Ms. Watts had endorsed as her preferred successor.

There is also Barinder Rasode, who sat as a Surrey First councillor before breaking with the party, saying it had become too closed and indifferent to voter concerns about crime and excessive municipal spending. Ms. Rasode, who would be Surrey’s first Indo-Canadian mayor, has yet to officially launch her bid, but has assembled a team of advisers.

On Friday, Ms. Hepner chuckled at the news about Mr. McCallum, wryly noting, “These are exciting times for Surrey.”

She said voters decided in 2005 they didn’t like Mr. McCallum as mayor when Ms. Watts beat him with 55 per cent support to his 43 per cent. Since then, she said Surrey has moved on. “I don’t believe there’s anybody that wants to go back,” she said, adding she would focus on Surrey First’s campaign.

Ms. Rasode said it would be good for Surrey to have an abundance of candidates, and that all will be held accountable for their records. She said Ms. Watts left Mr. McCallum’s Surrey Electors Team party over his approach to such matters as policing and growth – something voters will take note of.

In a recent interview, Mr. McCallum told the Surrey Leader that city finances should be run more tightly, and that council needs to move more quickly to bring more police officers into Surrey as part of a newly pro-active approach to fighting crime. Crime has been a key issue, underlined by a fatal December attack on a hockey mom as she was waiting to pick up her son at an arena. Police, who have since arrested a suspect, have described the incident as a robbery attempt.

Mr. McCallum also said he was in fighting shape for the political battle ahead. “I’ve lost 20 pounds. I bike every day at Crescent Beach. I’m probably in better shape than when I was mayor,” he said.

Prof. Smith said he doubted the former mayor can win because he lacks the infrastructure of a party organization to raise money. Also, he said Mr. McCallum, having sat out three elections, will face challenges being relevant in the current political environment. “It’s going to be hard to gain traction,” he said.

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