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A new political structure for the City of Surrey (The Royal Canadian Principality of Surrey)

A new political structure for the City of Surrey (The Royal Canadian Principality of Surrey)

“Mr. Alex Sangha was in attendance and presented Council with his proposal for the future of Surrey as a modified ward/riding system. Mr. Sangha commented on the rapid growth of Surrey and outlined the need for a ward/riding system. He added that he has provided Public Affairs with a copy of a document he has prepared supporting this system. Mr. Sangha advised that he has recently returned from Kent, England, where he has researched the Ward system in operation.

He went on to discuss the benefits of a ward/riding system, and pointed out that without such a system, it will become more difficult for the next generation to become involved in local politics. He pointed out that most major cities in Canada have ward systems and expressed the opinion that local politics in Surrey should operate on the same basis. In conclusion, Mr. Sangha requested that the suggestion of changing to a ward system be put to a referendum at the next civic election.”

In response, Surrey Council asked city staff to prepare a corporate report on the issue and send me a copy. They did not move forward with my recommendations. However, in the last civic election, all three major candidates including Mayor Linda Hepner endorsed some form of a ward system so maybe I was ahead of my time. I entitled my proposal for the future of Surrey in 1995 as “The Royal Canadian Principality of Surrey.” Below I briefly describe the political structure of the principality.

PRINCIPALITY | A principality for Surrey would mean a unique political agreement with Victoria and Ottawa that would address Surrey’s needs as the soon to be largest city in B.C. and one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

Surrey would have enhanced powers in the form of a new civic charter from Victoria that would enable the city to act on its numerous problems, including social issues in an integrated way, as well as enhance the potential and capacity of its strategic strengths and assets. This includes marketing itself as a gateway to the U.S.A. and expanding its port on the Fraser River.  Perhaps a new comprehensive general hospital in Newton or Cloverdale and a regional airport wouldn’t hurt either.

Surrey as a principality would have new powers and new authority and new money as it would have greater taxing authority and receive greater transfers to deliver programs from the provincial and federal government.

CITIZEN CHANCELLOR | The city would be “royal” because it would have a “Citizen Chancellor” appointed by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.

The Citizen Chancellor would become the Ombudsperson of Surrey Council. The goal of this new office would be to bring some non-partisan fairness in decision making in local government. The office would serve as a mediator between the citizens and city government when disputes arise and ideally avoid costly legal fees for both sides.

MAYOR | The Mayor would be elected at-large to represent all the citizens in the city.  The Mayor would have enhanced powers in three key areas:

  • They Mayor would have a veto over the budget.
  • The Mayor would make all committee appointments.
  • The Mayor would have exclusive jurisdiction over hiring staff in the Mayor’s office and have a veto over hiring key staff for the city.

CITY COUNCILLORS ELECTED VIA AT LARGE | Three City Councillors can be elected at-large to represent the interests of the city as a whole.

CITY COUNCILLORS ELECTED VIA WARDS | The City Councillors would be elected to represent each neighbourhood or ward.  For example, Surrey could be divided into the following wards:

Ward 1 – Surrey City Centre | Ward 2 – Whalley | Ward 3 – Newton | Ward 4 – Guildford | Ward 5 – Fleetwood | Ward 6 – Cloverdale | Ward 7 – South Surrey

The benefits of a ward system are numerous including the following:

  • Each neighbourhood or part of the city would have guaranteed representation on City Council.
  • A political candidate would not necessarily need to seek the nomination of a political slate.  An independent would have a good chance of being elected.
  • A political candidate would not need to fundraise a huge amount of money to run a city-wide campaign making politics more accessible and democratic.

VOTING BREAKDOWN | 

Mayor – 1 vote plus tie breaking vote | At-Large Councillors – 3 votes | Ward Councillors – 7 votes

This would total 11 votes total.

CHIEF COMMISSIONER | The Chief Commissioner would be the head of the city staff and chief bureaucrat in the city.  He or she would have the following major responsibilities:

  • To provide impartial advice to City Council
  • To serve as a proxy vote for Council Members if a Council Member was absent and quorum was at-risk on City Council.  The absent Council Member would need to direct how he or she wanted the Chief Commissioner to vote in advance.

PEDESTRIAN PARK ROUTES | The principality would also have a network of pedestrian park routes connecting all the town centres, parks, green spaces, and recreation and leisure centres in the city. These pedestrian park routes would have beautiful walking trails, bicycle paths, water fountains and benches, and showcase nature and civic art along their paths. They would all meet in the heart of the city centre where the Office of the Citizen Chancellor and other civic facilities such as the promised new performing arts centre would be located.

CONCLUSION | Surrey will soon be the largest city in the province and is going through tremendous growing pains. Over 1,000 new people move to the city every month. Time to invest in the city is now. Surrey needs new political infrastructure and new services and supports to keep up with the growth. Surrey needs to start being treated by Victoria and Ottawa as the big city and urban centre in the province!

Give Surrey the money, political power, and resources to effectively tackle and solve its own problems. Surrey can no longer wait and wait and wait for the Premier and/or the Prime Minister to effectively address Surrey’s numerous and growing socio-economic challenges.

About The Author

Alex Sangha

Alex Sangha is an award winning author and social worker based in Surrey.  He completed a Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy from the Department of Government at the London School of Economics.  For more information on Alex check out his author blog at alexsangha.com

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