Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum experienced his own personal heat wave on Monday night, running a gauntlet of verbal attacks during a public hearing on the city’s 2020 Annual Municipal (Financial) Report.
For the most part, he seemed to take it in stride during the digital meeting, which was live-streamed.
McCallum began the meeting by acknowledging it was being held on the “ancestral and traditional territory of the Coast Salish people” and noted that news about the unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children at former residential schools has “shaken Canadians to the core.”
“We are at a crossroads in our nation’s history,” he said. “This is a time for us to not only acknowledge this dark past of our history but it is also time to move beyond the words and promises. To the survivors of residential schools and to all First Nations People we share in your grief and we stand with you in your pursuit of the truth and justice.”
The City of Surrey has been roundly criticized for not making such an acknowledgment before its council meetings after Councillor Jack Hundial presented a motion calling for them in January. That motion was defeated by the Safe Surrey Coalition majority on council.
During the public hearing one speaker after another levelled pointed criticism at the mayor concerning the policing transition, property tax hikes, the lack of cooling centres during this heat wave, the mayor’s practise of disconnecting public hearing callers, and his car allowance.
Resident Leah Prasad said she’s “quite upset for the fact that we’re the only city with no cooling centres during the heat wave. It’s embarrassing.”
She also asked how “Mr. Mayor” calculated a 2.9 per cent property tax increase when she’s paying an increase of close to 14 per cent.
“I’m sure with all the people working under you, you could have got this right,” she said. “It’s unacceptable.”
She said she’s “very, very disappointed with this council.”
“Basically,” she charged, “you do not listen to anyone.”
“Mr. mayor, my last thing is, very unprofessional when you disconnect a call. When we are back in chambers, I will be there, and I will not be disconnected.”
Some comments by Ivan Scott, organizer of the Keep the RCMP Campaign in Surrey, were caustic.
“I cannot with a clear conscience ever support anything that McCallum physically, mentally or physically touches,” he said.
“Thank you,” the mayor replied.
Debi Johnstone questioned what she’s getting for her 15 per cent property tax increase.
“My taxes have increased 15 per cent and considering we’ve been living through a pandemic with reduced services, cancelled projects, and hundreds of city employees laid off, I’m trying to understand where our money is. What in the world has it been spent on? Why are we borrowing in excess of $150 million for projects that we originally had the money for?” she asked. “And then Mr. McCallum, you have the audacity to say we’re in a surplus. You insult my intelligence.”
Meantime, Cloverdale resident Carl Markwart told council he found an error on page 107 of the financial statements under gross taxes collected.
“You will see there that under the 2020 column it shows the current year’s levy of $801 million, the current taxes collected of $795 million, and it show the current taxes outstanding of $16 million,” Markwart said. “That’s actually an error, that’s $10 million too much, and of course that throws off the percentages and so I will leave that to you and your staff to figure that one out and perhaps have those statements redone to submit them to Victoria.”
Later in the evening Hundial asked that city staff look into this.