Surrey City Hall. (File photo)

Surrey mayoral hopefuls asked how they’ll ‘restore public confidence’ in city hall

All eight candidates weighed in during a Tuesday night all-candidates meeting in Cloverdale

How would Surrey’s mayoral candidates “restore public confidence” in city hall, if elected?

It was a question posed to those seeking the mayor’s chair during a Sept. 25 all-candidates meeting hosted by the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce and the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association at Kwantlen Polytechnic University Tech Campus in Cloverdale.

Candidates were asked how they would “restore public confidence” in city hall after two decades of “widely held public perception that Surrey city hall has been plagued with biased favours and possible acts of bribery or corruption with respect to real estate development.”

Safe Surrey Coalition’s Doug McCallum, who served as Surrey’s mayor from 1996 to 2005, briefly outlined his idea for an ethics commissioner at the session — candidates had one minute each to respond to the question.

In a Sept. 25 press release issued before the Cloverdale meeting, his slate vowed to make this a “permanent office” at city hall, and stated it would “ensure transparency and fair treatment of all citizens.”

“Good government comes from having a clear focus on priorities that are important to the citizens,” McCallum said in the release.

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During Cloverdale’s event, Integrity Now candidate Bruce Hayne said that he found rumours of corruption “very troubling,” and that they were part of the motivation behind his slate’s promise of a “360 degree review” of every city department to ensure processes are fair.

If elected, Hayne said he would also institute an ombudsman office at city hall, which would have the authority to look into any allegations “completely independent of mayor and council, or senior management.”

Mayoral hopeful Imtiaz Popat said “ask anybody and they’ll tell you how bad the corruption is at city hall.”

“And that started when McCallum was mayor,” he added, “so it’s been going on for quite awhile.”

Popat, who is with the Progressive Sustainable Surrey slate, agreed that Hayne’s idea of an ombudsman office was “not bad,” and went further to say that if elected, he would want to see an independent fiscal office to provide checks on all projects.

Pauline Greaves, who is running for mayor with the Proudly Surrey slate, advocated for a strong professional code of conduct that all city employees would be required to follow, as well as a strict conflict of interest policy.

If elected, she would explore eliminating the “silo” effect of the city’s current department structure — ensuring inter-department connection and oversight.

People First Surrey’s mayoral hopeful Rajesh Jayaprakash said his slate was formed because of their strong belief in transparency. He pointed to their website as an example of how they are “breaking the cycle” by allowing potential voters to see every dollar of donations to their slate.

Francois Nantel, an independent candidate running for mayor, said it was “fascinating to hear the so-called amount of corruption,” and echoed support for an ombudsman or an investigating office.

Another independent, John Wolanski, did not provide an answer for how to restore public confidence, but commented he was “totally amazed at the amount of realtors running for city council.”

For his part, incumbent councillor and Surrey First’s mayoral candidate Tom Gill said that during his time as chair of finance “the Government Finance Officer Association has given us awards for budgets, and annual budgets, in terms of presentation. So we have done exceptionally well.”

Gill said that, if elected, his mayor’s office would ensure that fairness would be provided.

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