Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is finding himself in some controversy over driving a city-owned set of wheels while also receiving an annual car allowance of $14,580.
McCallum drives a 2019 Buick Envision SUV, which the city bought for $46, 521.44. Former Surrey mayor Bob Bose, and others, are taking him to task.
“This came to my attention because people observed McCallum filling his car at the city works yard and everybody had assumed that was his own personal vehicle,” Bose told the Now-Leader.
“The optics are terrible,” Bose said. “Outrageous.”
“Everybody thought that McCallum was driving his own car,” he added. “It’s totally opaque, it’s not transparent. Totally opaque. You’d have to be a forensic auditor to sort this one out, and I’m not. Just one wrinkle after another.”
A Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request filed by Surrey resident Richard Landale revealed that McCallum’s vehicle allowance is intended to cover the replacement cost of the SUV, third-party liability insurance, fuel, repairs and maintenance and any other fleet shop costs charged to vehicles that are managed by the city.
“The mayor uses a City vehicle,” city hall confirmed. “Any costs incurred by the City on the Mayor’s behalf, related to this vehicle, are deducted from the monthly vehicle allowance and the Mayor receives any remaining amount in cash. The costs that are deducted from the monthly vehicle allowance include fuel filled at the City’s works yard using a fuel card, and all other fleet and insurance related costs.”
McCallum has not responded to requests for comment.
City of Surrey communications project manager Amber Stowe told the Now-Leader, “I can confirm that the Mayor uses his car allowance to repay the city for any car costs, including insurance and gas.” According to city policy, one-third of the allowance is provided on a tax-free basis.
Councillor Jack Hundial said he intends to lodge a complaint.
“I think the appropriate first stop is going to be talking to the ethics commissioner,” Hundial said. “I’m disappointed, quite frankly.
“It’s just another unneeded black eye for a city,” Hundial said. “It’s just the general optics of having politicians appear to be getting special treatment at the cost of taxpayers.
“Surrey’s better than this.”
Reece Harding, Surrey’s ethics commissioner, declined to confirm if he’s received any complaints.
“When it comes to complaints received by my office they will be confidential, and they are confidential, so I’m not going to talk about stuff that I’ve received or haven’t received,” Harding told the Now-Leader. “I’m not going to comment on complaints, I’m not going to talk publicly about complaints, I’m not even going to necessarily say I’ve received a complaint.”
Bose said his position is that “either McCallum gets a city car, paid for by the city, serviced by the city, and no car allowance, or he gets a car allowance and is responsible for his own vehicle.
“As council members are.”
Surrey’s mayor and eight councillors raked in $1,020,072 last year in pay, car allowance, travel costs, communications and other expenses. All together, Surrey’s nine council members received $74,060 in car allowance.
McCallum is not the first Surrey mayor to be provided with a car from the city. Some have, and others have not.
Bose said Don Ross, a towering mayor at six-foot four, “was the first mayor to be given a city car, and they stuffed him into a Toyota Tercel with a hatchback. And they stuffed him into that – it was quite a sight.”
Ross was Surrey’s mayor from 1980 to 1988. Bose succeed him, serving from 1988 to 1996.
“When I came along, they gave me a K-car, which was the Edsel of the Dodge line, I guess. It was a disaster,” Bose recalled. “But same arrangements; I had a mayor’s car for my exclusive use. and it was serviced and owned by the city. All the costs were covered, including fuel and service.”
Bose said the car had been purchased for the city’s director for economic development.
“I called it the city’s brothel creeper. It was the most gussied-up junk you could imagine. It was all velour, like a phoney suede, kind of a creamy brown. It was a piece of junk. It was passed down to me and I had to drive what I was given.”
Once, Bose said, the driver’s door fell off in a mechanic’s hands. It met its end when Bose and former Surrey MLA Sue Hammell, who was his assistant and driving at the time, were rear-ended by a “beater” of a van near city hall. “I ended up in the back seat, the seat collapsed and I ended up prone in the back. Sue was driving.”
And so that was the end of the brothel creeper. “Oh, it was done. It was totalled. So the brothel creeper was no more.”
After that, Bose was given a Ford Taurus, then a Plymouth Dynasty. He handed the keys over when he was no longer mayor. Did Bose get a car allowance as well? “No, no, no, no,” he gasped. “There was no car allowance in those days.”
Dianne Watts, who served as mayor from 2005 to 2014, didn’t get a car from the city. “No, we had a car allowance. That was to cover any expenses with the car,” she said. “I can only say for me what the structure was when I was there. I never filled up at the works yard, I never had the city pay for a lease. I had a car allowance and that covered any expenses for traveling.”
Asked if city hall bought or leased a car for her when she was mayor, Linda Hepner laughed.
“I had no idea that was even an option,” she said. “The car allowance was intended to maintain your own vehicle, to buy your own vehicle, pay for your own gas, to buy your own insurance, and to take into account any wear-and-tear you would have on your own vehicle. That was the full intention, from my understanding, of what a car allowance was for.”
Hepner served as Surrey’s mayor from 2014 to 2018.
“Clearly, if I was using a city vehicle, and the city was first of all buying it, second maintaining it and using the city’s maintenance yard to maintain it, thirdly, using the cheaper city gas, then I would have expected no allowance because I’m not imposing any costs on my personal bank account,” Hepner said.
“That really surprised me to see that that’s what was happening. I cannot think of a clearer example of double-dipping than that.”
In neighbouring Delta, Mayor George Harvie drives his own car and receives an annual car allowance of $16,728.