British Columbia·Metro Matters

What we learned at the Surrey mayoral candidates debate

Whoever becomes Surrey's mayor on Oct. 20 will deal with huge questions on crime, transportation, and affordable housing, in an area larger than Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond combined.

Bruce Hayne, Tom Gill and Doug McCallum tackled issues of crime, transportation and affordable housing

From left, Bruce Hayne, Tom Gill and Doug McCallum squared off in a Surrey mayoral candidates debate on Tuesday night.

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The Big Issue

Hi! This newsletter only contains thoughts on Surrey!

Why? Well, we co-hosted a debate yesterday, and it's worth talking about what was said and why it matters. 

But it's also important, from time to time, to shine a brighter light on B.C.'s second biggest city. Surrey has 82 per cent of Vancouver's population, but probably doesn't get 82 per cent of its coverage. 

Whoever becomes Surrey's mayor on Oct. 20 will deal with huge questions on crime, transportation, and affordable housing, in an area larger than Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond combined.

Which means there's a lot more room — literally — for leaders to make their grand plans reality. And a lot more room for them to screw up. 

So let's talk about last night's debate. 

The Big Moment

For a straight recap of the debate between Tom Gill, Bruce Hayne and Doug McCallum, here is Justin's writeup. Want a full video of last night? You can find it here.

And if you're wondering what stood out most in the 90 minutes? Well, we asked moderator Stephen Quinn, and panellists Jesse Johnston and UBC professor Gerald Baier. 

Here's what they said. 

Quinn: "Did I hear anything new tonight? Not really. They were all gunning for McCallum. Tom Gill specifically, Bruce Hayne to maybe a lesser degree, but it was McCallum put on the defensive. I didn't find any one moment. What I found interesting was McCallum asking them about their current record on council, and them asking McCallum about his time as mayor, because if you believe both of them, literally nothing has happened in Surrey in the last 20 years."

Johnston: "When they started talking about transit, it was interesting that it was Doug McCallum that was playing defense on his track record on transit policy, even though he hasn't been in office since 2005, when you had two sitting councillors there. It's almost like you had three incumbents going at each other."    

Baier: "There was a feeling of legacies for everyone. They all have served Surrey in some function in the past. So you're talking about looking forward, but you're still looking at people who have been partly the architects of what Surrey is today. The push from Tom Gill on a lot of opportunities to ask Doug McCallum what did you do then? 'What did you do when you were in charge of planning in the city?' That kind of style is expected in a debate, but it really highlighted that part of it."

What Comes Next?

There are few people who have learned (and forgotten) more about Surrey politics than Frank Bucholtz, known best for his time as an editor with several Fraser Valley newspapers.

He agreed with our debate panellists: Surrey's election is defined by reaction to McCallum's plans — even though this is his sixth campaign to be mayor (winning the first three, losing the last two). 

"He's got the pulse of a lot of voters on two really important issues: transit and whether Surrey needs its own police force. In previous campaigns, I don't think he was as close to the voters pulse as he is this time," he said. 

As for what Bucholtz is watching for? The results of the RCMP investigation into allegations of voter fraud, and whether the election issue of crime goes from an abstract discussion to one informed by a sudden shooting.

"All of a sudden, it's going to be focused totally on crime, gangs, guns, the rest of it, and that's going to have a significant impact on how people vote," he said. 

"I'm hoping that doesn't happen, but that's certainly a possibility. Criminals pay no attention to election cycles." 

Percolator (something big on social media)

There were many things that riled up audiences of the Surrey debate, but one thing stood out: Doug McCallum's pronunciation of the word Uber. Watch it for yourself.

It started off with the question: If elected, what would each of the candidates do to bring ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to Surrey. (And yes, we know it's an issue within provincial jurisdiction, but bear with us.)

First off, McCallum said no to Uber. Just in case you're interested in the policy answer. 

"I've been very clear when I was mayor, and I've been very clear over the years ... I don't support Uber at all," he said.

Uber was founded in 2009. McCallum was last mayor in 2005.

But on a more frivolous note, he pronounced the word with a definite 'y' ahead of it. And the comments poured in, until the variations of the word yuber or yoober dominated the comments on social media. Here's a smattering of Facebook comments:

Who do you think won the debate? Email us at!

Plus, more video highlights from the debate here.


And we have more Surrey content! Here are some headlines that you might have missed. 

There's a realistic chance that a person of colour could become the mayor of Surrey for the first time. Tom Gill isn't making a big deal of potentially being the first Indo-Canadian mayor of Surrey though ..."That may be a personal accomplishment, but what's most important ... is taking Surrey to the next level." More on #cityhallsowhite.

Surrey bylaw officers have taken down more than 500 election signs after a handful of residents filed complaints with the city. That's because the signs were placed at traffic intersections, which some argue could be distracting to drivers.  

It's a crowded ballot in Surrey. Here's your civic voter guide to all the parties and candidates.  

Advanced voting is already underway in Surrey. Upcoming dates are Oct. 10, 11 and 13 in six different locations, which can be found here.

For more civic election coverage, CBC and UBC will host mayoral debates in Kelowna and Vancouver on Oct. 15 and Oct. 17 respectively.

That's it for us this week! Check out the latest headlines at and follow our municipal affairs reporter, Justin McElroy and social media editor Tamara Baluja on Twitter. If you have any questions about the municipal election, drop Justin and Tamara a line at

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