British Columbia

'This is what we campaigned on': Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum shows no signs of wavering after dramatic 1st year

The mayor isn't one for introspection and tends to stay relentlessly on message — which means most interviews with him provide few new details as to whether his priorities or thought processes have changed.  

Promises are moving ahead, councillors who have left his team aren't respecting voters, he says

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is pictured in his office at city hall in Surrey, British Columbia on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In a 20-minute interview, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum says the word "campaign" 10 separate times. 

As in, last year's election campaign. Which he won. And is the lens for how the mayor of B.C.'s second largest city views everything that's happened over the last year. 

Is he satisfied with progress on moving away from an RCMP detachment and toward an independent police force?

"We've been given the green light and this is what we campaigned on," he says, brushing aside any concerns.

Does it make sense that Surrey doesn't want cannabis or ride-hailing companies operating within city limits? 

"We've said very clearly in the campaign ... that we're going to put a moratorium [on those activities]," he says.

Do complaints of the three councillors who left his Safe Surrey Coalition over the past six months, calling him heavy-handed and imperious — and leaving him with only a 5-4 margin of victory on several council votes — have any validity?

"Those councillors changed their position on what they campaigned on," he says. 

And so it goes.

After 13 years out of power, McCallum was sworn in for a second sitting as Surrey's mayor exactly one year ago.

While a lot has happened since, that victory — and the way McCallum uses it as a rebuttal for any number of questions — continues to loom large.

McCallum promises an independent police force will be 'fully up and operating' by April 1, 2021. (CBC)
 

Policing and SkyTrain

The mayor isn't one for introspection and tends to stay relentlessly on message — which means most interviews with him provide few new details on whether his priorities or thought processes have changed since taking office.

On the two big things he was for — extending the Expo Line from King George Station to the City of Langley, and moving to an independent police force — he continues to be resolute: money will come to fully complete the SkyTrain extension so it doesn't end in Fleetwood, and the police force will be "fully up and operating by April 1."

"That's our commitment to the public, that we said we were going to act on very, very quickly," he says. 

And on two evolving industries in B.C. he was against — cannabis and ride-hailing — he continues to be steadfastly against them setting up shop in Surrey.

As for other priorities, now that a lot of the policy framework for his two big promises are completed?

McCallum says further environment-focused policies will be coming forward in the years to come, along with speeding up permit times and increasing density along transit corridors.  

Doug McCallum speaks with CBC News about his first year in his second stint as mayor of Surrey. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Ride-hailing conflict brewing?

If there's an area of uncertainty that might be resolved in the next few months, it's ride-hailing. McCallum promised to deny business licences to any company wanting to operate in Surrey, while the province has said that's not possible.  

With companies like Uber and Lyft hoping to begin operations in Metro Vancouver by the end of the year, McCallum seemed to indicate his influence is limited.

"We've already indicated in business licenses that we'll be ... making sure it's on a fair basis. Our staff are currently looking at what Vancouver did as far as putting fees in on the ride-hailing, and we're looking at that and we probably will do that," he says.

But when asked, McCallum rejects the idea he's warming up a little bit to ride-hailing.

"Unless they change their mind as far as being a level playing field, we won't change our mind."

Which is unsurprising. Surrey has a mayor who sticks to his guns, lets the chips fall where they may — and is happy to remind people about what happened a year ago. 

"A lot of times the press is very critical of me, as far as we're supporting projects that we campaigned on ... so I think some of the press has to realize we ran a very good long campaign," he says.

"The public will be the ones to deal with it in the next election."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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