Protected by half a dozen bylaw officers and hotel security, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum painted a glowing picture on Wednesday of what his council team has accomplished for the city in three years.
The state-of-the-city speech, which focused on Surrey’s population and business growth, its new community centres and its low tax rates, came two days after Mr. McCallum had to end a council meeting within minutes of its start because of a raucous crowd calling for his resignation.
That’s something the mayor acknowledged only briefly.
“There has been no shortage of critics, doubters, and naysayers. I have always said you need a thick skin to do this job and, to the council members who have stood fast, I thank you,” the mayor said in a lengthy address to an invitation-only crowd of 240 supporters and councillors.
But he mostly focused on successes. Building permits and housing starts are at all-time highs, residents are benefitting from a big array of new community services and construction will begin next year on the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain that he campaigned for, he said.
“We made good on a big to-do list,” said Mr. McCallum, who drove hard on two main priorities since he was elected in 2018 – replacing the RCMP in Surrey with a municipal force, and demanding that the city get a SkyTrain extension rather than the previously planned light-rail lines.
But the mayor will face a trial for public mischief on Oct. 30, within two weeks of this year’s Oct. 15 civic election. RCMP charged him over an incident at a shopping mall where he got into an argument with a vocal group of residents who have lobbied to keep the Mounties.
Last week, Global News reported that the Surrey police board asked the mayor to step down as chair until after the trial, but he refused. The board has declined to confirm that publicly, with representatives saying they can’t discuss in-camera conversations.
However, at a police board meeting later on Wednesday, Mr. McCallum said he would absent himself from meetings until after the civic election. He did not indicate he plans to resign as chair.
The protesters who came to Monday night’s council meeting demanded that Mr. McCallum step aside as mayor over the public-mischief charge, which Councillor Jack Hundial also suggested.
Mr. McCallum told reporters on Wednesday that there are no real problems and that he is open to hearing from all residents about their concerns, as long as they don’t shout and swear.
And he denied any suggestion that his council can’t get anything done because it has become dysfunctional due to his legal problems and abrasive style.
“We’ve never seen as much business done as in the last three years,” Mr. McCallum said.
Several groups, including Mr. McCallum’s own party, are preparing for a lively and potentially tough campaign.
The group that has opposed the mayor’s efforts to shift away from the RCMP gathered more than 40,000 signatures to try to force a referendum on the effort – a sign of the political mobilization that might be possible.
So far, only one other person – Councillor Brenda Locke, who started out on the mayor’s slate but left with two other councillors to sit as an independent – has declared a run for mayor.
Ms. Locke, who has formed the Surrey Connect party with Mr. Hundial, said she believes the public is disenchanted with Mr. McCallum and his high-handed approach to pushing through his agenda and his refusal to consider resigning.
“It’s pretty typical of this mayor to take no responsibility for any of his actions,” said Ms. Locke, who attended the mayor’s talk.
Councillor Linda Annis, the last remaining representative of the Surrey First party that Dianne Watts started in 2008, has not said yet what her party’s plans are for running a mayor-and-council slate.
Both Ms. Locke and Ms. Annis said the mayor took a lot of credit in his speech for community facilities and improvements that were actually approved by previous councils. As well, they said, taxes in Surrey are not as low as he claimed, because residents were charged a new, separate “parcel tax” this year on top of regular property taxes.
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