Blast from the past: Doug McCallum talks about running for mayor of Surrey

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      Surrey municipal politics keeps getting more interesting.

      Just as I was completing an article comparing  potential mayoral-race rivals Linda Hepner and Barinder Rasode to Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Surrey Leader's Kevin Daikiw delivered some shocking news.

      Former three-term mayor Doug McCallum, who was defeated by Dianne Watts in 2005, is considering a political comeback.

      "There are a lot of people out there pushing me, I'll say that," McCallum told the Surrey Leader. "I can see out there where there are people out there who think we need to have a tighter fiscal policy."

      In his interview with Daikiw, the former leader of the right-wing Surrey Electors Team bragged about all the transportation infrastructure that was ordered during his tenure on the TransLink board.

      He specifically mentioned the Golden Ears Bridge, the world's largest order of trolley buses, and the Canada Line.

      I remember covering McCallum when he chaired TransLink. 

      McCallum neglected to mention that the Golden Ears Bridge has never attracted sufficient vehicle traffic to justify its cost.

      As a result, TransLink must subsidize it to the tune of $35 million to $45 million per year because McCallum and other board members were sold a bill of goods on vehicle traffic.

      That subsidy would be better used providing better bus service in the region, but instead it finances a crossing between Pitt Meadows and Langley, even though the province has built a 10-lane Port Mann Bridge.

      As for the world's largest order of trolley buses, McCallum and the board favoured purchasing them from New Flyer in Winnipeg.

      The losing bidder, Denver-based Neoplan, held a news conference after the board vote in 2003, alleging that it was prepared to provide more vehicles at a lower price.

      This prompted McCallum to issue a public statement saying it "would be inappropriate to disclose a comparison of New Flyer's and Neoplan's proposals at this time".

      In 2004, McCallum issued another statement claiming that the New Flyer buses were less expensive than the Neoplan bid. It was done in partnership with the Czech company Skoda.

      McCallum's claim about the Canada Line is true: it was approved under his watch after three votes at the TransLink board.

      The public was repeatedly told it would cost between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion. The real cost was closer to $2 billion.

      It would have been far cheaper to run street-level train along the Arbutus corridor or provide rapid-bus service to the airport and Richmond, but McCallum favoured going all out for the subway.

      McCallum, as TransLink's chair, also voted for a design-build-finance-operate public-private partnership on the Canada Line.

      It's the only part of the SkyTrain system done this way.

      In 2013, B.C.'s former auditor general, John Doyle, examined the Evergreen Line, which will not be operated separately. He found that this approach best met the government's policy objectives.

      Doyle determined that in the case of the Evergreen Line, TransLink was wise to "reject a longer-term P3 arrangement, including operations and maintenance, because of the integration and efficiency benefits of having one operator across the entire SkyTrain system". (For more information, I recommend this Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives policy note.)

      This past week, I learned one of the downsides of having a private operator in charge of the Canada Line.

      I wanted to obtain a copy of a contract that the operator had reached with a private company, but was told by TransLink that the private operator is not subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

      If this contract had been negotiated by TransLink or its wholly owned rapid-transit operating company, it would have been in the public domain.

      It's one small example showing how McCallum chose less accountability a decade ago with his vote on the Canada Line.

      Now he says he's being urged to run for mayor of Surrey again.

      Residents can't say they haven't been warned.


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      No, no, no.

      Jun 28, 2014 at 11:07am

      No, please, no. Three terms of McCallum and three of Watts. These are two people that have sucked up to immigrant housing developers who in turn have wrecked Surrey and surrounding area.


      Jun 28, 2014 at 11:09am

      Good God. Or heaven help us. Or whatever Great Spirit we can call upon, please do not allow this dinosaur to rise from the muck.


      Jun 28, 2014 at 8:15pm

      Doug McCallum is a dinosaur of suburban politician mentality. When Surrey was on the cusp of massive growth in the 1980's he was adamant that growth in Surrey would be based upon the suburban dream of a house on a large lot, 2 car garage, strip malls, and cul-de-sacs. Experts warned that this sprawl will create massive congestion on the arteries of the Lower Mainland, increase the need for the car-culture and limited effective transit for the People. He ignored these warnings, and set the course for Surrey to become the City of Parking Lots, certainly no longer the City of Parks. Citizens of Surrey --- beware.


      Jul 2, 2014 at 1:35am

      "The public was repeatedly told it would cost between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion. The real cost was closer to $2 billion.

      It would have been far cheaper to run street-level train along the Arbutus corridor or provide rapid-bus service to the airport and Richmond, but McCallum favoured going all out for the subway."

      I have a beef with all reporters who think that rapid transit planning is solely a capital cost battle, so I think I'm going to ahve to call a bit of BS on this part of the article.

      An early study I read on the RAV corridor examined options for at-grade/grade-separated rail options on both Arbutus and Cambie. An at-grade Arbutus line would have taken 42 minutes to traverse the corridor between downtown and Richmond - no faster than the previous 98 B-Line, an already established and already popular rapid bus service (with lots of BRT transit priority) to Richmond and (+ 424) the Airport. With transportation benefits essentially being zero, it wouldn't have been worth the cost to build and a far inferior choice than the logistically sound option we have taken of an underground line on Cambie St, connecting Yaletown, City Hall and Oakridge as well.

      In fact, officially, the Canada Line was reported by TransLink as "under budget" - according to one of their annual reports. When the fare revenues (which have passed projections and are offsetting the capital cost payments as we speak) are considered, I don't see how it was unreasonable to make this claim. I also think the perceptive cost increase to closer to $2 billion had much to do with inflation.

      The points regarding the P3 and freedom-of-information limitations are certainly valid, but please, let's not put SkyTrain in the spotlight and make it seem like a bad idea. That's all I ask. At the end of the day, the costs were clear, the benefits have been clear, and people are happy with the very advantages to how it was built.


      Jul 4, 2014 at 2:43pm

      In addition to what SteveP pointed out earlier, it bears reminding that McCallum's SET slate were in control of the Surrey Board of Education when it tried banning books depicting queer couples.

      Dinosaur indeed, and even Barinder Rasode hasn't made a significant commitment in the opposite direction. Surrey needs an actual left front. =/

      12 9Rating: +3

      Agree With No No No

      Jul 5, 2014 at 9:11pm

      I have to agree with No, no, no.