British Columbia

'That scares me': Surrey's outgoing mayor questions switch to SkyTrain, city police

When outgoing Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner cleaned out her office, the bookshelf behind her desk was bare except for the gift she left for her replacement — a model light rail car.

Linda Hepner left a cheeky, transit-related gift in her office for Doug McCallum, the city's new mayor

Outgoing Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner left a model train on the bookshelf as a gift for incoming mayor Doug McCallum, who plans to scrap the city's LRT project. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

When outgoing Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner cleaned out her office, the bookshelf behind her desk was bare except for the gift she left for her replacement — a model light rail car.

"This is my elevated rail," she laughed. "It's relatively facetious."

In 2014, Hepner's campaign promise to build an LRT line that would connect the city's Guildford, Whalley and Newton neighbourhoods helped her secure a landslide victory.

In 2018, Doug McCallum scored a big election win of his own, thanks in large part to his pledge to scrap LRT and build a SkyTrain line to Langley instead.

"The new mayor and council are assuredly going to be making that shift to SkyTrain," she said. "I just want to make sure that as they do that, the money stays attached to Surrey."

Hepner is referring to the $1.65 billion in funding from TransLink and the federal government that has been allocated for LRT. McCallum says he can redirect the money toward SkyTrain and have the project completed in two or three years.

"That scares me," Hepner said. "I would hope to see that the $1.65 billion stays in Surrey and gets invested in rapid transportation."

Full speed ahead

TransLink stopped work on LRT as soon as Surrey city council voted to cancel the project. McCallum will try to sell Metro Vancouver mayors on his vision for transit next week.

Estimates released by TransLink suggest a SkyTrain line to Langley would cost $2.9 billion but McCallum insists he can get a better price by building 25 to 30 percent of the line at grade.

Doug McCallum, who served as Surrey's mayor from 1996 to 2005, was re-elected last month on a promise to scrap LRT and the RCMP. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

"It's a simple construction job," he said. "When you build lines very quickly — and we intend to build it around the clock, seven days a week — you save a lot of money in the end."

Hepner questions whether it's a good idea to run an electrified track at ground level, but she says she isn't going to worry about it in her retirement.

"My understanding is that you'd probably build some kind of wall around it, which doesn't sound particularly aesthetic to me," she said. "But there you go. I don't have to make those kind of decisions anymore."

Surrey police

The new mayor and council also unanimously passed a motion Monday evening to opt out of the city's contract with the RCMP to create Surrey's own police force.

McCallum says the transition will take two years.

Hepner says it was a major challenge for her to hire 100 new officers during her time as mayor, so starting a new police department in 24 months will be difficult.

"It was not an easy task to bring in 100 new employees who have to go through a process and making sure they're well housed," she said. "That was a big deal."

Surrey's RCMP detachment is the largest in Canada. (CBC)

McCallum says he expects 50 to 60 percent of Surrey RCMP members to stay in the city after the switch is made and he's already heard from officers in other cities who would like to join the Surrey PD.

Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald — who is in charge of the Surrey RCMP — says his team will keep doing their jobs until their contract runs out.

"We have to remind ourselves that this is a business decision or a political decision," he said. "So, you can't take this personally as an officer. Am I disappointed as an officer? Yes I am."

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