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Ed McKitka with his wife following his election as mayor in Nov. 1975. Credit: Surrey Leader fonds, City of Surrey Archives
Ed McKitka with his wife following his election as mayor in Nov. 1975. Credit: Surrey Leader fonds, City of Surrey Archives

Ed McKitka ex-mayor of Surrey, 79

Roguish career of outspoken B.C. politician Add to ...

Ed McKitka served two years as mayor of the Vancouver suburb of Surrey. That was one year less than his sentence after being convicted of breach of trust and other offences.

The roguish career of Mr. McKitka, who has died, stands out even in British Columbia, which has a reputation for wayward politicians.

A husky figure with a pugnacious disposition, Mr. McKitka was a rough-hewn character eager to do battle. He claimed to have gone into politics after punching a municipal contractor in the mouth outside his home.

“Hell, I’m the liveliest mayor in the whole province,” he once told Chris Gainor of the Vancouver Sun. “I’m the most controversial. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because I speak my mind.”

One of the mayor’s first acts was to demand the removal of artworks he found to be pornographic. He was widely mocked for his crusade, including in the pages of The New Yorker magazine. Ridicule was a kinder fate than what was to come.

He lost the mayoralty, then regained a seat on council by being elected as an alderman, only to be banished from office for five years following his criminal conviction. He served time in prison.

Then, while on parole, he was convicted of sexually assaulting three teenaged girls in his employ by touching their buttocks, for which he was fined $600.

Mr. McKitka embraced controversy, perhaps finding in debate the opportunity to express the resentments that seemed to fuel many of his antics.

After losing the mayor’s chair on election night, he presided over his final meeting of municipal council by wistfully recounting his 10-year political career, summing up with a defiant, “Pretty good for a truck driver!”

Adolf Mikitka, later known as Edward Adolph McKitka, was born on March 15, 1934, in the village of Vilna, 150 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. His biography, as he once told the Vancouver Province newspaper, is of a hard-working man who made the most of his opportunities.

His carpenter father moved the family to Victoria when the boy was five. They eventually transferred to B.C’s Lower Mainland, where Mr. McKitka said they were insulted as “bohunks” until the family name was anglicized and “now they don’t know who we are.” He dropped out of school after Grade 10. In reciting his background, he provided a glimpse at how he regarded his own success.

“I had to go to work, feed the kids – my brothers and sisters,” he said. “I went to work in a loggin’ camp, driving ’Cats, drivin’ logging trucks. Fifteen at the time – from the old hard-knock school.

In 1965, the political novice challenged incumbent Roland Harvey for the Surrey reeve’s post. Mr. Harvey was re-elected with 5,747 votes, while Mr. McKitka finished a distant third with 1,762.

An attempt to gain a seat on council failed the following year when Mr. McKitka finished eighth of 15 candidates vying for five seats. He at last gained a spot on council in November, 1967, joining Bill Vander Zalm, who would go on to become Surrey mayor and later Social Credit premier of British Columbia.

The sprawling district of Surrey, which stretches from the Fraser River to the border with the United States, underwent a dramatic and uneasy transformation in those years. The population in 1971 was 96,600; by 1991, it was 245,173. Rich farmland was turned over for housing developments and fortunes were made – and sometimes lost – on land deals.

Not long after arriving on council, Mr. McKitka became the subject of investigations into whether he was using public office to further his private contracting business.

A provincial inquiry looked at his relationship with developer Walter Link, who had rented a Cadillac convertible for the councillor’s use. He was cleared of wrongdoing, yet both men would face future criminal charges over their dealings.

“I got into trouble,” Mr. McKitka said a few years later, “and I’ve stayed in trouble ever since.”

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