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Rasode for Mayor a Risky Play

Those who follow Surrey politics know that Councillor Barinder Rasode made local headlines a couple of weeks ago when she resigned from Surrey First to sit as an independent on council. Rasode was part of the coalition since 2008, when she made history being the first woman of South Asian descent elected to council in Surrey.

Perhaps this appeal she will attempt to leverage in a city with a distinct South Asian base come November, though for the mayor’s office or a seat on council remains to be officially realized. Pursuing the former does, however, feel early, even amid the current splintering of the guard, it’s a risky play.

Line in the sand
If anything, Rasode has now emerged as a staunch alternative, however slight or extreme, to the Surrey First brand, something desperately needed, at least for the sake of political debate. Rasode claimed three issues demarcated her sudden departure from the coalition:

1. The approach taken toward public safety and fighting crime
2. Spending at City Hall
3. Community consultation

According to local reports Rasode went even further, stating:

“It has become obvious that I am not able to offer alternative viewpoints while remaining a member of Surrey First. Following the tragic death of Julie Paskall, I spoke out about the need to fulfill the commitment in our crime reduction strategy to hire more police officers, and implement additional safety measures in Newton and around our facilities. In the weeks following, I was criticized by council both privately and publically (sic), cut off from staff resources, removed as Chair of the Police Committee, and stopped receiving Council updates from the OIC of the Surrey RCMP.”

Watts, after a brief silence, went on the offensive claiming Rasode’s comments were misleading, equating her remarks as nothing more than “electioneering.”

It certainly is an interesting way to exit and appears as steadfast political posturing after such a bitter fallout, especially when a resignation within an election year is outlined by three distinct issues conveniently displayed as contrasting to the current council position, Watts thus included.

An opinion of events
The critical point of course is whether Rasode’s comments were truthful and sincere. This is difficult to ascertain unless you are on council or are able to view the inner workings, but her recent removal as chair of the police committee is an interesting event to examine.

Newton’s struggle to combat crime in its area came to a head with the murder of Julie Paskall this past January. Rasode, as reported by the Now’s Amy Reid, broke party lines, claiming the city was indeed not doing enough to quell the crime and safety concerns that had been brewing in areas of Newton.

Watts ostensibly clipped Rasode’s wings at the next council meeting via Rasode’s removal from the police committee chair position and by further naming councillors Linda Hepner, Bruce Hayne and Barbara Steele to support the work being done in the “restructuring of the committees”—coincidentally, two of three supporting councillors are supposed mayoral hopefuls.

Watts’ decision most definitely props those members up as leading the new charge against crime in the city—an important and pivotal issue—and the move publicly debased Rasode’s efforts purely through the connotation of it, despite Watts’ seemingly hollow commendations.

Newton can be considered Rasode’s constituency base, it’s where she lived a good part of her life as well. Remaining on Surrey First, a coalition representative of all the successes and failures of Surrey (i.e. homelessness, crime in Newton), would more than hint at an about-face attitude. In an election year this could spell disaster. Furthermore, politically, Watts’ actions left little by way of choice.

A move of necessity
Rasode’s resignation was a bold move, but also necessary to preserve the integrity of her position. Rasode was penalized for publicly going against the grain on a matter of local policy and governance, despite the restructuring excuse Watts extended.

In such a position, Rasode could do two things: stand in line or take a stance. She chose the latter.

But despite the face-off and contrasting perspective on the issues outlined above, it seems a risky play for Rasode to run for Surrey’s top political spot. Furthermore, a council seat would be easiest to secure in 2014, compared to recent times.

In 2011, Rasode retained seven per cent of the votes cast (33,616 votes), numbers incrementally better than in 2008 (32,710 votes). This despite roughly 9,000 more voters reaching the polls in 2011 than the election previous.

Rasode’s heritage and recent headlines made, may boost her popularity in the short term, however, in overall it’s tough to say, especially when it’s vying for a single seat. Rasode was the eighth and final councillor elected in the 2011 election. Her popularity after a single term was still thousands of votes below each of her council mates, one of whom will indeed be running for mayor this year.

The mayor’s seat is a risky proposition. A good portion of Watts’ 80 per cent vote retention from 2011 could very well transfer to her Surrey First successor. Also likely is that Rasode will be left with a vote-splitting situation against a former coalition running mate, and, if loses, will be left out of the political arena altogether. It’s certainly difficult to gauge, at least from my position on the outside, how the Surrey First brand will fare without its the congenial Watts.

The safe play is thus to run for another council seat and build-up political steam over the next term, albeit while a new mayor sits in office. But Rasode could critique and thereby shape policy as a councillor, demonstrating a vision for the city just as she is beginning to do as an independent on council.

On Rasode’s heels in 2011 was former mayor Bob Bose with 25,832 votes. But, Bose retired from politics following the previous election. Furthermore, Marvin Hunt currently sits in provincial pastures and either Councillor Linda Hepner or Bruce Hayne will not be around to sop up votes as one is likely to run for mayor.

Therefore, hypothetically, 20 to 22 per cent (2011 elections figures) of the vote previously soaked up will be available in the upcoming council election and this number could very well increase if this year’s elections see more than a quarter of eligible voters turn out.* Also noteworthy is that the remaining candidates on the 2011 ballot, besides Bose, only secured up to three per cent of the vote, or less.

The landscape of swing votes is enormous, potentially 1/5 of voters turning up at polls will need to select from a handful of new candidates. This will certainly elevate the status of those experienced politicians, including Rasode and will practically ensure her a place on council and offer an opportunity to gauge her support among her fellow candidate.

 The mayor’s office is indeed a better goal, but a riskier play.

While citizens of Surrey may want change, it’s certainly difficult to believe Rasode will be perceived as that paradigm shift having been a part of the pack for six years or so. Though, maybe the two-term councillor is content with an all or nothing ordeal or has indeed swayed local voters. The thing to remember however, and Bose will remind you,  even when you think you’re coming up on the right side of the issues, election day may prove otherwise.

Looking forward
This year’s municipal elections will be interesting to those interested.

Rasode selected an opportune time to turn independent with a splintering coalition, which could very well further divide in the course of backing their next mayoral candidate. Rasode should be praised for her move to stand up, even if she previously played a part in creating the status quo that exists as a two-term serving member of council.She felt change was needed and voiced an honest opinion. It’s a shame it had to occur on the backdrop of a tragic murder.

There is definitely a chasm between Watts’ Surrey First and Rasode’s position, the question is, where will the Surrey electorate fall? Will voters remain steadfast Surrey First supporters after Watts’ departure or will they decide that it’s time for change? And if the latter, who best to represent an air of change? We simply won’t know until November. Get out and vote.

* Note that, in 2011, there were approximately 279,140 eligible municipal voters of which just over 79,000 showed to the polls (25% turnout). This was one percentile greater than the turnout for 2008. In 2005, about 35% voter turnout was had. The 2011 elections figures are from the City of Surrey website at http://www.surrey.ca/8928.aspx.

The window for official nominations opens Sept. 29, 2014.

 

Brandon Kostinuk
Brandon graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in comparative history and a political science minor. After a two-year stint as a compliance researcher at a private financial firm, he moved on to an accelerated journalism program at Langara College. Brandon currently freelances, sharing time at a local startup magazine and content writing.
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