City Hall’s Approach to Public Engagement isn’t Connecting with Taxpayers
Surrey, B.C. (June 14, 2021): Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis says the staff report on public engagement being presented at tonight’s virtual council meeting means nothing if community consultation isn’t taken seriously by the Mayor.
“Doug McCallum has demonstrated time and again that he has absolutely no interest in community engagement or public consultation, and it’s showing in how our city is failing to connect with its citizens on important issues,” says Annis. “Look at the issue of policing, the Surrey Transportation Plan, or more recently the road through Bear Creek Park, Doug McCallum has a complete lack of interest in what Surrey residents have to say and that has permeated city hall. The result is a growing disconnect between our taxpayers and mayor and council. Frankly, all of us at city hall need to get out into Surrey’s neighborhoods and demonstrate that we really want to hear what people have to say, and that’s just not Doug McCallum’s approach.”
Annis said the recent “public consultation” around pushing a road through Bear Creek Park was “incomplete and totally ineffective” because it didn’t even ask the fundamental question: do you want this to happen?
“As a result, the so-called public consultation skirted the most important question of all, simply because Doug McCallum didn’t want to hear the answer,” explained Annis. “A staff report on engagement and consultation means nothing if the leadership isn’t there to get serious when it comes to talking to our residents or involving them in big decision.”
Annis also pointed to the recent staff update to council on the Surrey Transportation Plan whose public consultation included stakeholder interviews, focus groups, two virtual open houses, and an online survey, and “yet less than one per cent of people got involved.’
“There were two virtual open houses with a total of 45 people, and an online survey with just 3500 participants from a city with close to 600,000 people,” said Annis. “Meanwhile, transportation is a big issue for everyone in our city, it’s always top of mind, so why was community engagement so low, it’s certainly not for a lack of interest. We’re either not doing enough or we’re doing the wrong things, which is it?
“Frankly, I think one of the big mistakes we make is assuming that everyone in the city goes to the city website, which is just not the case. Ask yourself, when was the last time you went online and went to the city website, for anything? People are busy, and it’s time that those of us who were elected by the people of Surrey get out into our community centres and start hearing from our voters and taxpayers on a regular basis. The COVID rules are changing and I want all of us to start scheduling time in neighbourhoods listening to the people who sent us to city hall in the first place. We really need to hear from our citizens face-to-face, because I worry that taxpayers feel we have stopped listening, when in fact it’s just the mayor.”
Annis said she wants mayor and council to “hit the road” and make a point of going to neighbourhood community centres so local residents can talk directly to their elected representatives “about absolutely anything” that’s concerning them.
“Right now our citizens really only get to talk at a council meeting if it’s a land use issue, and even then you’re limited to five minutes,” said Annis. “ We make no real provision to hear from people, and that’s just not good enough. I didn’t get elected just so I could talk to city staff, I want to hear from the people who put us here.”
Councillor Linda Annis