Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum is talking about four things while on the comeback trail.
The old warhorse is promising voters safer streets, city-spending control, improved transit, and a neighbourhood ward system.
When asked about wards, McCallum said that it’s a “far better governance model” than the current at-large, or citywide, voting system. And that it’s good not just for Surrey.
“In B.C., we’re the only province in Canada that doesn’t have the ward system for its medium to large cities,” McCallum told the Georgia Straight by phone.
So far, McCallum is the only high-profile mayoral aspirant who has raised wards as an issue in the fall municipal election.
“It’s a simple model, and it gives the people better representation. Because now, when our public wants to talk about an issue, they don’t know who in council to phone. There’s eight of them [in Surrey council], and they have trouble figuring which one to phone,” he said.
According to McCallum, wards would also do away with slates controlling city hall.
“Slates are a form of top-down authority.…The slate makes up what they’re gonna vote for, and they all agree. What wards does is flip that upside down, and it’s the people that make the decision. It should be the people making the decisions, not slates,” he explained.
Wards are geographical areas, like provincial constituencies and federal ridings. Surrey had a ward system until it was abolished in 1957.
Surrey has six major communities: Cloverdale, Guildford, Fleetwood, Newton, Whalley, and South Surrey. According to McCallum, Surrey could be divided into four wards, with two representatives each in council. As in many cities across Canada with wards, the mayor would be elected through at-large voting.
Raj Hundal has taken note of McCallum’s push for wards in Surrey. During his time as a Vancouver park commissioner, Hundal was an advocate of electing councillors and school trustees through wards.
According to Hundal, wards should be the biggest issue in this year’s municipal-election campaigns in larger cities like Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, and Richmond.
“Nothing is more important than direct accountability: electing representatives in local neighbourhoods to have a voice for people, to have a voice in terms of their local needs,” Hundal told the Straight in a phone interview.
When he was a Surrey councillor, Bob Bose, himself a former mayor, suggested wards in six areas, namely Cloverdale, Green Timbers, Panorama Ridge, Tynehead, Newton, and Whalley. These would be represented by one councillor each. In addition, four other councillors would be elected through the at-large system and represent Surrey at the regional level.
Bose’s hybrid system is used in some cities in Canada. According to Mike Dumler, a Vancouver-based advocate of wards, this might appeal to voters.
“For people who feel there’s some negatives with each of those, a mixed system gives, you know, I think a greater chance of passing [in a plebiscite],” Dumler told the Straight in a phone interview. “It also recognizes that people who sit on [the] Metro [Vancouver board] from Vancouver really don’t represent a ward, they represent a whole city.”
Vancouver had wards until 1935. In 2004, voters decided to keep the at-large system in a plebiscite. They may have another chance to look at the issue should the left-leaning Coalition of Progressive Electors win a majority on council.
According to COPE executive director Sean Antrim, his party’s platform includes a referendum on electoral reform. Antrim told the Straight by phone that Vancouverites would be asked two things: one question would be on keeping the at-large system or replacing it with a ward system; the second would ask whether to keep the first-past-the-post system or shift to proportional representation.
By 2020, Surrey is forecast to overtake Vancouver as B.C.’s biggest city. For McCallum, that’s another reason why his city should have wards.
“In talking with many people in our community, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ward system is far better for any major city in B.C.,” he said.