We look back at Surrey’s top five stories in 2019, a year dominated by the high drama that Surrey city council became.
1. Policing transition
Though it found its inception in the 2018 civic election campaign, without a doubt Surrey’s top story this year was city hall’s epic plan to swap out the Surrey RCMP, which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951, for a new city-made police force.
At Surrey council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, 2018 it served notice to the provincial and federal governments it is ending its contract with the RCMP.
While all nine council members voted for this, no one could have predicted the twists and turns that played out in 2019, and will likely continue.
Councillors opposed to what they characterized as Mayor Doug McCallum’s unwillingness to entertain anyone’s counsel other than his own, and those councillors faithful to him, raised the alarm about lack of public input – their’s included – in the formation of this plan.
Wally Oppal, a former B.C. attorney general, is heading the provincial team that has been tasked with overseeing the transition after the NDP provincial government gave the city approval to establish its own police force in August.
Oppal re-affirmed in an interview with the Now-Leader, published Oct. 1, 2019, that the new police force is set to launch in the spring of 2021. Last week he received the committee’s report and told this newspaper it will likely take him a month to review it to decide if it “passes muster” to send it on to Victoria for further consideration.
Our next two top Surrey stories of 2019 are indelibly linked to the policing transition story – the controversial city budget passed for 2020, and council infighting.
2. Budget 2020
Number two is the budget, with its heavy focus on funding the police force transition process at the expense of other amenities and services.
Councillor Linda Annis warned the new police force will come not only at the cost of not hiring more police and firefighters but also at the expense of road repairs, rinks, recreation centres.
Councillor Steven Pettigrew echoed her.
“It will take years if not decades to recover from this type of fiscal ideology,” he said. “I hope that the people of Surrey will speak up and voice their concerns.”
Speak up they did, on both sides of the policing issue. Certainly the most raucous council meeting in decades – over which time there had been some dillies – erupted on Dec. 16, devolving into a shout-fest in the packed chambers between residents on either side of the policing transition issue, with remaining members of the Safe Surrey Coalition walking out of chambers twice, and subsequently grievances being raised about procedural issues – such as the mayor ignoring some councillors right to speak on a point of order while his majority raced through the bylaws to approve the hotly disputed budget in a 5-4 vote.
3. Council infighting
Third on the list of top Surrey stories for 2019 is what may be a Pyrrhic victory for a mayor who is in some quarters considered heroic, in others, obstinate. This concerns former Safe Surrey Coalition Councillor Steven Pettigrew parting ways with his former team in May to sit as an independent.
“I just tried to ride out the storm, but I just, enough is enough,” he told the Now-Leader at the time.
Councillor Brenda Locke then left the mayor’s coalition in June, followed by Councillor Jack Hundial’s resignation from the SSC in July.
4. New hospital for Surrey
Fourth on our list involves some good news – on Dec. 9 the provincial government announced, finally, that Surrey will get a new hospital, to be built in Cloverdale next to the Kwantlen Polytechnic University campus at 5500 180th St.
This has been decades in the making. The city is currently served by Surrey Memorial Hospital, opened in 1959, Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, opened in 1954, and the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre which was opened in Green Timbers in 2011.
In the 1990s, Mike Harcourt’s NDP government bought some property at 5750 Panorama Dr., near 152nd Street and Highway 10, as a potential site for a new hospital.
In subsequent years Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell staged a press conference on that property and declared, “We will be building a hospital here.”
This, of course, did not happen, and the Liberals sold the Panorama property for $20,516,000 in March 2014.
The cost of Surrey’s second hospital is still not known as the business plan stage is expected to take around 12 to 18 months.
5. SkyTrain shooting manhunt
And finally, in our fifth spot, the year 2019 rang in with two bangs that resulted in one of the most memorable police manhunts the Lower Mainland has seen in many years.
Daon Gordon Glasgow, 35, of Vancouver is charged with attempted murder and weapons offences in the Jan. 30 shooting of transit police Constable Josh Harms, 27, at Surrey’s Scott Road SkyTrain Station. Harms was shot twice in the arm while in the line of duty.
Glasgow has a court date set for Sept. 22, 2020.
He was arrested at a house in Burnaby a few days after the extensive manhunt, which kept many Metro Vancouver residents on the edge of their seats.
He had been on mandatory release from prison on a Surrey manslaughter conviction at the time the trigger was pulled in the SkyTrain station shooting.