COLUMN: Election may be quiet one

Surrey’s 2011 municipal election slated for this November may turn out to be one of the quietest on record.

This prediction follows last week’s bombshell announcement that two of the three Surrey Civic Coalition trustees who sit on the Surrey Board of Education are joining forces with three other trustees to form a new group known as Surrey First Education. This parallels Mayor Dianne Watts’ highly-successful Surrey First group, which holds seven of the nine Surrey council seats.

Both Surrey First groups contain a broad mixture of provincial Liberal and NDP members, along with others who have an interest in Surrey politics. Watts’ group has tried to operate on a consensus basis at city council, and for the most part this has worked.

The two departing SCC trustees, Terry Allen and Laurie Larsen, are both presidents of Canadian Union of Public Employees locals. Larsen is president of  local 402, which represents Surrey civic workers, so even an informal alignment with Surrey First brings union-management relations into a new sphere.

Board of education chair Laurae McNally, who represents White Rock on the board, says that all seven trustees have worked well together in this term, and the realignment of political loyalties may be related to that.

There have also been some internal tensions within SCC over how best to compete against Surrey First this fall.

McNally at one time was elected in Surrey, as part of the long-defunct Surrey Municipal Electors (SME) slate.

SME also contained a broad mixture of political ideologies, with NDP and Social Credit supporters (and some provincial Liberals) all a part of the slate.

SME was very successful for much of the 1980s, and in its earliest days was more like Surrey First. However, as its time in power lengthened (it controlled both council and school board), internal tensions grew. That led to new slates (one more to the right, another to the left) and SME’s eventual demise.

Surrey First thus far has avoided that internal tension, and part of that is definitely because of Watts’ strong leadership skills. Whether she will be a leader of the Board of Education trustees or not isn’t clear, but there will have to be a leader in place if Surrey First Education is to have the same level of success.

McNally has been an excellent chair, with her long track record as a Surrey trustee and in provincial education circles. If Surrey First Education trustees are content to have her continue to chair the board after the election (assuming most incumbents are re-elected), the next board will function smoothly. In the meantime, the board needs to continue to push MLAs to work much harder on behalf of Surrey students, and ensure there are enough classrooms in the rapidly growing district.

Surrey First has avoided political infighting due to the fact that there is minimal party structure. For the most part, it is an alignment of individuals who combine their forces to run for office. Such an approach is crucial in Surrey because of its size and the difficulties of campaigning city-wide.

The new Surrey First Education group consists of Larsen, Allen and longtime trustees Shawn Wilson, Reni Masi and Pam Glass. All three were at one time part of Surrey Electors Team (SET), and Masi is both a former Liberal MLA and Surrey principal.

Its formation puts enormous pressure on SCC, and how it responds to the twin Surrey First groups will be interesting to observe.

My guess at this early stage is that SCC will run full slates in opposition to the two Surrey First groups, but will have limited success – given Watts’ popularity and the lack of controversies at both council and the Board of Education.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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