October 17, 2018 9:54 am

Voter fraud allegations, battles over policing shadow Surrey’s civic election

WATCH: Sonia Deol talks to four Surrey mayoral candidates running in the October 20 civic elections.

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Surrey has been debating for some time whether to replace the RCMP with its own police force.

Consider the following quote from a prominent Surrey politician.

“I feel very strongly that we need to deal with the issues and stop playing politics with public safety.”

“I think it’s been lobbied back and forth for quite some time whether we get a municipal force or stay with the RCMP and I think we have to deal with the issues, come forward with the best possible solutions for policing in Surrey, and get on with life.”

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Dianne Watts made those comments back when she was a city councillor. The year was 2003.

Watts broke away from then-mayor Doug McCallum after she claimed she was told to interfere with the Surrey RCMP at the mayor’s request. She went on to defeat McCallum in the 2005 civic election to become mayor.

Fifteen years later, it seems that the issue of policing in Surrey is more prominent than ever.

Crime and punishment

With each passing week and each incident of gang-related crime, the issue of public safety seems to dominate the race to replace Surrey First mayor Linda Hepner.

Earlier this year, more than 1,000 people attended a rally against gang violence following the deaths of 16-year-old Jason Jhutty and 17-year-old Jesse Bhangal in what police described as a targeted shooting.

Last week, the killing of a known gangster close to an elementary school in Surrey prompted strong reactions from several mayoral candidates.

Surrey First candidate Tom Gill said the killing of 30-year-old Sumeet Randhawa reinforces the need for a full-on anti-gang campaign.

He has also said he will support a referendum that will let the public decide whether the city has outgrown the RCMP.

WATCH: Rampant gun violence key issue for Surrey voters in civic election

McCallum, who has returned to civic politics as the Safe Surrey Coalition’s mayoral candidate, said he will ensure that the city would get its own police force, something he was unable to do when he was mayor from 1995 to 2006.

He said if elected he will cancel a proposed arts and cultural centre and use the $250 million to create a Surrey police force, and do away with the RCMP.

READ MORE: Surrey mayoral candidate blames low blood sugar for not answering key debate question

Bruce Hayne, a former city councillor with Surrey First who is running with Integrity Now, says a move to a municipal force could take several years, and “we need solutions right now.”

Hayne said the city’s top Mountie has told him the local police force needs another 150 to 200 more RCMP officers.

Hayne said if he’s elected mayor he’ll hire 40 additional police officers per year over the next four years at a cost $6.3 million per year.

Gill says if he’s elected mayor, he will need 125 more RCMP officers.

“We want to make sure that we have money for intervention, prevention, and with respect to those two items, we’re prepared to put $30 million over the next five years to ensure that our youth that are at risk right now are better served.”

LRT or SkyTrain?

Traffic and transit remain major issues in the the province’s fastest-growing city.

Last month, the federal government formally announced funding for the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT project, the province’s first light rail transit system aimed at providing services in areas of Surrey not connected by SkyTrain.

Following the announcement, there was plenty of discussion about whether the money for the LRT would have been better spent elsewhere.

Hayne, who was on Surrey council when LRT was voted in, said he wants to hit the pause button on the project.

He said he has yet to see a convincing business case from TransLink, saying the organization’s “own documents say that that route can be well served by buses until 2041.”

“All the emails that I’m getting, all the people that I’m talking with simply do not want LRT. They want SkyTrain,” Hayne said. “As we are becoming the second metropolitan hub in the region, we need to hook into the existing rapid transit grid in Metro Vancouver, which is SkyTrain.”

WATCH: Surrey LRT construction to begin in 2020

McCallum said he will scrap the LRT project outright.

“During our first council meeting, we will cancel the light rail project in Surrey and we’ll turn to look at building SkyTrain along the Fraser Highway.

“We’ve listened to the people of Surrey and…they don’t want light rail, they want SkyTrain,” McCallum said. “They tell us very clearly that they want the same type of system that the rest of Metro Vancouver has.

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“We’ve already talked to the federal government and the prime minister has indicated that if a new council is elected and they want SkyTrain, that the money will stay here. It’s $1.65 billion. He’s indicated that the money will stay here and that, in fact, they will open discussions with the new council.”

McCallum said the $1.65 billion could be used to extend the SkyTrain from Surrey to Langley.

WATCH: Early example of Surrey LRT car unveiled

Gill refers to McCallum’s plan as “absolute nonsense.”

He says the LRT will serve the needs of the community, with 200,000 people who live within a five-minute walking distance of the train line.

“We’ve got $1.65 billion on the table. Let’s take advantage of that money; let’s start building,” he said.

“Let’s make sure that this community receives what it’s entitled to. There is no question. There has been no significant investment in this city in the last three to four decades. This is our money. It’s our turn. Let’s take advantage of this cash.”

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Mayoral candidate Pauline Greaves notes that McCallum’s plan will still leave residents without a connection between North Surrey and South Surrey.

“It’s mainly taking and [putting in] a SkyTrain to Langley. What about the rest of Surrey?”

TransLink’s CEO Kevin Desmond says it wouldn’t be possible to change course this late in the game.

“The Mayors’ Council has set the policy, this is what the Mayors’ Council signed off on, the federal government and the provincial government are now ready, willing and able and fully committed to providing their share of the dollars,” Desmond said last month.

Allegation of voter fraud

From Watts’ feud with McCallum to Linda Hepner’s rise to power, one thing is certain — Surrey politics are never boring.

That’s certainly the case in this year’s civic election, which has been filled with accusations of voter fraud allegation.

On Friday, Surrey RCMP offered an unusual update in the ongoing investigation into allegations of attempts to fraudulently use absentee ballots in that city’s election.

WATCH: Voter fraud allegations in Surrey investigation

Police said of 73 applications made for mail-in ballots, 67 were found to be fraudulent because they weren’t completed or signed by the voter listed on the application.

None of those ballots were actually distributed to voters.

Police have identified and interviewed two persons of interest, but say more investigation is needed to determine if criminal charges should be laid.

WATCH: ‘Honest to God my blood sugar’s low’: why Surrey mayoral candidate Tom Gill passed on election question

Then last week, in a bizarre turn, Surrey First’s Gill said he fumbled a key question during a debate last week due to low blood sugar.

“I took a pass because I wasn’t too coherent at that time. My blood sugar had gone out of control, honest to God.”

At the debate, Gill was asked: “What is your priority on crime and policing?”

“Pass,” he answered.
There are concerns that the controversy around the campaign could turn off voters, leading to public apathy and low voter turnout.
That would be a shame, notes political strategist Mike McDonald in a commentary for Global News, since the Surrey election “may have the most impact of any local election in British Columbia.”
— With files from Janet Brown, Simon Little, Terry Schintz, Gord Macdonald and Richard Zussman 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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