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Opinion: This is what Surrey needs to truly be a thriving ‘opportunity city’

Surrey Board of Trade CEO calls for infrastructure investment, tax reform
Surrey is poised for major growth, but it needs support to unlock full potential, writes Anita Huberman.

I’ve been with the Surrey Board of Trade for 31 years, working in a variety of roles. I’ve been president and CEO now for 18 years and I’ve seen Surrey evolve into what I like to call an “opportunity city.”

Surrey is an opportunity city, but we need support, focus and the capacity to take on risk—including doing things in new ways to get the infrastructure we so desperately need.

The B.C. provincial election season is upon us. We are dancing in the dark into this election, not knowing what each candidate or political party will do to elevate the spirit of entrepreneurialism or to create the revolutionary change that is needed in provincial budgeting to ensure Surrey is ready to be the largest city in B.C. in five years. Which party will be celebrated when the election platforms are released? Will elected officials keep their campaign promises after the election?

Surrey needs revolutionary change in health care, transportation infrastructure and school investments at the kindergarten-to-grade-12 and post-secondary levels. 

Entrepreneurs need to see all levels of government, even local government, commit to a comprehensive review and action plan to minimize the taxes and red tape that are affecting businesses. We need to modernize our tax systems and tax structures to reduce bottom-line erosion. Paying taxes and the inefficiencies of the current tax system add costs, reduce time spent on growing businesses and reduce our ability to be competitive in order to sustain and attract businesses.

We need to determine what works and what doesn’t. A review of the tax system could find ways to eliminate redundancies, create simplification and generate new revenue opportunities for government, while saving businesses money and administrative burdens. With simplicity, efficiency and certainty come international competitiveness and productivity. A tax review could reduce the rising cost of living, drive down debt, create economic growth, improve international competitiveness and improve efficiencies.

Surrey needs a performing arts centre, a stadium and other destination assets throughout our city, along with ways and means to easily connect them. You can fit the cities of Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby into the geographic limits of Surrey. That is a huge area. I still believe in light-rail transit (or LRT) as a first-class way to connect everyone and everything within Surrey. Surrey can do this with global investors. But I don’t think it is easy right now for global investors who want to strategically invest in Canada to do business. There is so much red tape.

Surrey has many economic assets, including its Health & Technology District (where the new Surrey Technology and Skills Centre opens on June 25), the greatest number of manufacturers in B.C., an international shipping terminal, its access as a border city, agricultural and industrial land, and so much more.

Surrey is a technology industry destination, and we are quickly cultivating Surrey as a hydrogen industry destination. Our Indigenous communities, including our Inuit and Métis communities, are intrinsic in the economic partnerships and growth of Surrey.

I am and always will be an ambassador for Surrey. But we need help to enhance the livability of this city—and that has to come from the B.C. and federal governments. Surrey also needs to partner with global investors to reduce the city’s dependence on taxes to fund everything. It is being done in other parts of the world. Why can’t we do it?

We have the power to adopt projects and policies that will fuel growth and ensure that Surrey is an opportunity city for all—and a city that with the infrastructure assets needed to be a destination.

Anita Huberman is president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade.