British Columbia’s second-largest city is still going to get a new police force and multi-billion-dollar SkyTrain expansion despite financial challenges that have forced delays in building 17 new capital projects, including new libraries and a community centre, the new mayor says.
Doug McCallum told a news conference on Tuesday that he is sticking to his promises on transit and law enforcement even as Surrey grapples with financial challenges affecting an ice-rink complex and Indigenous gathering place.
"We need to live within our means,” Mr. McCallum told a news conference held at city hall, southeast of Vancouver. “We are building within our means. As our community grows, we will be building facilities in it, but we will be building them with pay-as-you go financing.”
The measures, announced as debate begins on a budget, are aimed at cutting $135.6-million in costs for the fastest-growing municipality in the province.
Mr. McCallum, who marks a month as mayor Wednesday, made it clear he is committed to his big promises, noting a report on replacing the RCMP with a municipal force will be sent to the province by early 2019, and that city staff are working with TraansLink, the regional transit authority, on plans to expand SkyTrain in Surrey for the first time in a quarter century.
Of the policing agenda, the mayor said, “It’s probably going a little quicker than I had expected.”
Both promises topped the platform of Mr. McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition party, which he led to winning seven of eight council seats in the October municipal election.
Mr. McCallum, 73, also won the mayoralty, returning to the job he previously held for nine years, ending in 2005 when he was defeated by Dianne Watts, who then governed the city for nine years before going on to be elected as a Conservative MP. Mr. McCallum was defeated in a 2014 bid to get his old political job back, but won in 2018.
In both provincial and federal elections, Surrey has been a competitive political battleground for parties coveting the city’s swing seats.
Mr. McCallum has met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to press his agenda for scrapping a planned $1.65-billion LRT system and replacing it with an expansion of the subway-like SkyTrain system that would link Surrey with nearby Langley. The mayor’s SkyTrain ambitions, a top-tier promise in this fall’s election, forced regional mayors to reconsider an agreed-on transit-expansion strategy.
Key pieces of Mr. McCallum’s agenda depend on money or support from higher levels of government, said Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University. “He’s clearly looking to make noise and use that noise to his advantage,” Mr. Prest said in an interview.
According to a staff report, Mr. McCallum inherited a situation where the city is facing a $514-million debt as a result of an “aggressive” capital program launched by previous mayors and councils.
But the cuts disclosed as part of the “pay-as-you go” financing approach have raised some concerns about access to ice time for hockey players and skaters, which prompted the mayor to have staff hand out a chart showing that the demand for ice time is declining in the city.
He said the city is proceeding with some projects, citing, for example, a new 60,000-square-foot YMCA community centre in Surrey City Centre, a booming area that features city hall, the main branch of the public library system and a 52-storey hotel, apartment and university complex.