[Editor's note: In the first of four pieces, The Tyee's Bob Mackin looks at the issues and personalities in key municipal races.]
Surrey, British Columbia's second largest city, is the scene of one of the most contentious civic campaigns in the province. Outgoing Mayor Dianne Watts is leaving municipal politics to run for the Conservatives in the 2015 federal election, leaving the field open for a successor.
There have been allegations of sign vandalism and ballot irregularities. (Several candidates for the One Surrey party saw their party affiliations omitted from advance ballots).
Three frontrunners have emerged among seven candidates, among them, former mayor Doug McCallum, who is hoping to make a comeback, and councillors Linda Hepner and Barinder Rasode.
McCallum, who lost to Watts in 2005, has formed the Safe Surrey party and made crime the focus of his campaign. His campaign team includes Surrey Now editor Beau Simpson.
Hepner, a former veteran civil servant, who was elected to council in 2005, has taken the helm of Watts' Surrey First party, nabbing the mayor's endorsement too. Hers is a pro-development, pro-police platform. Hepner's backroom team includes influential veteran B.C. Liberal lobbyist and campaign strategist Patrick Kinsella.
Rasode cut her teeth as an aide to New Democratic MLA Penny Priddy. She has a slick campaign machine, with former BC NDP stalwart Moe Sihota and BC Liberal strategist Mark Marissen in her backroom. Her campaign slogan, "One Tough Mother," is borrowed from the title of a memoir by Columbia Sportswear boss Gert Boyle.
An Insights West poll, conducted Nov. 6 to 8, had Hepner and McCallum tied with 33 per cent of the vote among those already decided, with Rasode close behind at 30 per cent.
The Insights West Poll said 24 per cent of those surveyed were undecided.
With 25 murders in Surrey in 2013, crime and community safety are among the top issues.
The Insights West poll found that 54 per cent of those surveyed cited crime as the top issue, compared with 16 per cent who said transportation was the top issue.
Rasode has hired Delta's retiring police chief Jim Cessford as an advisor. She has also promised to hire an ethics commissioner.
Another key issue is Surrey's economic future. There is pressure to expand transit and the Fraser River port. There is also pressure to transform farmland to residential and industrial uses.
These projects are potentially worth billions to Surrey over the next two decades.
There could also be a renewed push for a destination casino. Developer Bob Cheema, a Rasode supporter, was involved in the Gateway Casino proposal that council rejected in 2013. The British Columbia Lottery Corporation has said Surrey is under-served by casino gambling.
Rasode had supported the plan, hoping that it would cause the closure of a casino in Newton. Now she says she has received no campaign donations from Cheema, is refusing gambling company donations and opposes gambling expansion in Surrey. McCallum, former CEO of Harness Racing BC, has publicly stated his support for a long-proposed development of a destination casino at the Fraser Downs racetrack in Cloverdale.