British Columbia

What kind of salesman is Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum? We're about to find out

The first meeting for a new mayor and council is usually more about ceremony than city business — everyone is sworn into their new roles, they pose for pictures and then go home.

McCallum is expected to start work on 2 huge campaign promises as soon as he is sworn in as mayor

Doug McCallum thanks supporters after being elected mayor of Surrey. (CBC)

The first meeting for a new mayor and council is usually more about ceremony than city business — everyone is sworn into their new roles, they pose for pictures and then go home.

It's the kind of pomp and circumstance that Surrey mayor-elect Doug McCallum doesn't have time for these days.

He just promised to complete construction on a new SkyTrain line in two to three years and replace the Surrey RCMP with a municipal police force in 24 months.

Surrey voters rewarded McCallum for his promises and ambitious timelines with a huge election victory but now he has to deliver.

That's why McCallum will introduce motions Monday evening to get started on both projects as soon as the word "elect" is removed from his title.

Support of the region?

McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition holds all but one seat on council, so his SkyTrain motion should pass easily.

A bigger challenge comes later this month when he'll try to persuade the TransLink Mayors' Council to ditch LRT and build SkyTrain instead.

The region's 10-year transportation plan includes $1.65 billion from the federal government and TransLink to build a Light Rapid Transit line that would connect Surrey's Guildford, Whalley and Newton neighbourhoods.

Cost estimates released last year by TransLink suggest the project McCallum prefers — SkyTrain from Whalley to Langley along Fraser Highway — would cost $2.9 billion.

"I think we're working hard to get the support of the mayors' council," he said.

"We're not making any changes in the ten year-plan except the one change — it's a technical change — which is changing the light rail that's proposed [for] Surrey to SkyTrain."

New Westminster mayor Jonathan Cote has suggested if Surrey scraps LRT, the city may have to pay back some of the $50 million that has been spent on preliminary work.

"That won't happen," McCallum said.

This graphic of the proposed LRT line between Guildford and Newton in Surrey shows how the trains would be part of the streetscape. (TransLink)

Making deals

Several Metro mayors say they won't support McCallum but he doesn't have to persuade all of them to push his project through.

Surrey is the second largest municipality in the region, so McCallum may be able to capitalize on the weight-by-population voting system used by the mayors' council.

McCallum appears to have already established a relationship with Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart, who has big transportation plans for his city, too.

Stewart wants to run a rapid transit line from VCC-Clark Station to all the way to UBC instead of stopping at Arbutus Street.

"That is what I've been talking to mayor McCallum about," he said.

"We'll have further conversations once we as the mayors' council figure out exactly what want to do in the city."

McCallum already supports Stewart's vision.

"I certainly have always agreed that the Vancouver rapid transit line should go to UBC," McCallum said.

"I'm not a believer in spending that kind of money on a rapid transit line that only goes three quarters of the way."

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Election looming

McCallum insists a SkyTrain line to Langley can be built for much less than TransLink's estimated $2.9 billion, though he hasn't presented a business case to back up his claim.

If SkyTrain costs more than the $1.65 billion that has been set aside for the LRT project that McCallum wants to kill, he will have to figure out where the extra money is going to come from.

Langley city councillor Nathan Pachal, who is also a writer for the South Fraser Blog, predicts the SkyTrain project will go ahead but there won't be enough money to reach Langley.

"He has said that he will be able to build SkyTrain for a cheaper price but I think if you look at the actual facts, it's going to cost more," Pachal said.

He said unless Ottawa and the province deliver more capital funds for SkyTrain, he thinks the first phase will only go as far as Surrey's Fleetwood neighbourhood.

McCallum says he didn't ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about additional funding when they met in Vancouver last week.

A mock-up of what the Surrey light rail transit system would look like. The city has struggled to secure funding for the project, first proposed in 2012. (City of Surrey)

Goodbye RCMP

The obstacles McCallum needs to overcome to create Surrey's own police force are logistical and financial instead of political.

The federal government picks up 10 per cent of Surrey's policing bill but the city will lose that funding when it cuts ties with the RCMP.

"It's going to cost our citizens — and we campaigned on it — a little bit more money," McCallum said.

"Surrey already owns all the equipment, all the police cars and all the community police stations we own."

Kwantlen Polytechnic University criminology professor Mike Larsen is skeptical of McCallum's timeline.

"Two years strikes me as being — if I am generous — extraordinarily ambitious, but I'd be inclined to say unrealistic," Larsen said.

"There's a lot of moving parts ... negotiations with the province, conversations with the RCMP  about existing infrastructure, personnel, discussions about accountability.

"These things take time."

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