The new mayor of British Columbia's second-largest city is promising a light-rail system will be running by 2018 even if the public rejects new proposals to finance transit in a looming referendum.
Linda Hepner, a city councillor now headed for Surrey's top political job, left herself little wriggle room after she was elected in a landslide on Saturday night to succeed Dianne Watts.
"You're going to see that light rail on the ground by 2018. I am incredibly confident," Ms. Hepner told reporters.
"I am building that light rail. We have got to connect this city."
With 48,622 votes, the former Surrey economic development officer had more votes than key rivals Doug McCallum (27,233) and Barinder Rasode (21,193) combined.
Surrey First, the party Ms. Hepner created with Ms. Watts, who plans to run for the federal Conservatives in the next election, also won all of Surrey's council seats.
Her deadline would come in the year of the next municipal elections across British Columbia.
Crime was also a key issue in the Surrey election.
Atop Ms. Hepner's to-do list is the paperwork to seek 147 more Mounties for Surrey.
But transit has also been a concern for residents of the sprawling suburban city southeast of Vancouver that is growing at a rate of about 1,000 people a month. Surrey has a population of about half a million.
Ms. Hepner said she will campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum, urging the public to support whatever revenue tools are proposed to pay for needed transit. However, she said she is also working on a "Plan B" to see through light rail if those revenue plans are rejected. "I am going to have that Plan B in place and ready to go off the shelf."
She said she would build light rail with a public-private partnership if necessary, but did not have details on election night.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, re-elected on Saturday, has been equally intent on putting a multibillion-dollar subway along the city's Broadway corridor. However, he has not set a deadline.
During the campaign, Ms. Hepner talked about a $2-billion system. It would begin with a 10-kilometre line connecting Surrey's new downtown core with the Guildford area and the Newton neighbourhood. A second, 17-kilometre phase would run to Langley.
Ms. Hepner also said during the campaign that it is not acceptable that Surrey pays about $144-million a year to TransLink, the regional transportation authority, without an expansion of SkyTrain in more than 20 years.
She said not all the planning has been done for the light-rail system. "I need more designs on where the station stops would be. It's under way to a degree. We'll escalate that and we'll put together the business plan."
Ms. Rasode, a councillor who quit Surrey First over its crime policy, congratulated Ms. Hepner and Surrey First for their win, but called the mayor-elect's transportation ideas ridiculous.
"I don't believe, for a second, that light rail will come to Surrey before 2018 just because of the logistics of it. We would have had to be in the ground already and I don't think there are models in place that would allow a P3 outside of TransLink."
Gord Price, head of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said that as an MP, Ms. Watts could help Ms. Hepner access federal funds to help pay for light rail.
Mr. Price said Ms. Hepner's pledge could be "problematic" if significant light rail work is not done by the 2018 election, suggesting the election-night soundbite would be replayed to her political detriment.
Still, he said 2018 voters might forgive Ms. Hepner if she makes serious advances with the project. "If you've got momentum; if you've got a commitment. If the funding is there and you this is going to happen really, that's what counts."
Mr. Price said the outcome of the election suggests Ms. Watts and Ms. Hepner have created a durable coalition of political interests with Surrey First that is similar to Vision Vancouver. "I saw it as a real choice by the electorate. Would they be looking back or would they be looking forward? We got a clear message," Mr. Price said.
Ms. Hepner said it appeared the message that Surrey is at a crossroads and Surrey First is ready go forward with development appeared to resonate. On the campaign trail, Ms. Hepner would claim the city was no longer the butt of jokes as a suburban wasteland.
Ms. Hepner said she is ready to replace the popular Ms. Watts, who won 80 per cent of the vote in 2011. "The legacy of Dianne Watts is enormous. But it takes a team to make a legacy, and I was part of that team."
Ms. Rasode said she will run for council in 2018 and will not seek federal office next year. "I loved my role as a city councillor. I think I was not only a good councillor, I was an outspoken councillor."
Mr. McCallum did not return calls seeking comment.