Monday night’s vote on the Surrey policing transition was a momentous step. This column was written a few hours ahead of the vote, but the assumption is that council will go ahead and vote to stop the transition. Mayor Brenda Locke and the four councillors elected with her on the Surrey Connect slate all vowed to stop the transition during the recent election.
The likely costs of stopping the transition could be as high as $159 million, assuming that most of the Surrey Police Service (SPS) officers who have been hired quit their jobs. Severance costs are estimated at $66 million. Last week, the Surrey Police union said that more than 90 per of SPS members had signed a pledge that they would not join Surrey RCMP or any other RCMP detachment.
A report to council on stopping the transition confirms what Surrey residents already know – there are fewer police officers on the street, despite the city’s non-stop growth. The current “strength” of policing – combined Surrey RCMP and SPS – is 734. This is down from the goal of 805 members mentioned in Wally Oppal’s 2020 report on the transition.
A referendum after the 2018 municipal election would have given voters the final word on the project, but instead it became a four-year political battle.
Even with a council vote to stop the transition, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth must still approve the city’s plan. The report for Monday’s meeting notes that the city cannot properly budget for 2023 policing costs until Farnworth makes his decision.
Had there been a measured and orderly approach to the transition right from the start, it probably would not have been so controversial. That would have meant that former mayor Doug McCallum would have needed to keep both council and the public fully informed about the transition and its costs. That did not happen.
Farnworth gave the final go-ahead to the new force in February, 2020. SPS was not formally established until September, 2020. A formal transition committee was also set up at the same time.
Note the dates. Farnworth’s final approval took place just a few weeks before COVID-19 lockdowns and health concerns completely changed provincial priorities. In September, 2020, a provincial election was imminent and we were all still in some type of lockdown.
On another note, the passing of Dedar Singh (Dee) Sihota, a former Surrey teacher and principal, needs to be recognized. He was a trailblazer for South Asians, both provincially and specifically in Surrey. He passed away on Oct. 8 at the age of 98.
He immigrated to B.C. as a 12-year-old boy in 1936 and was placed in a Grade 1 class, because he did not speak English. With the guidance of a supportive and encouraging teacher, he went to UBC and graduated with a B.A. in 1949, and then attended Vancouver Normal School to obtain a teaching certificate.
His obituary notes that he was “the first Indo-Canadian to become a teacher in B.C.”
He spent most of his career in Surrey, as a teacher, counsellor, vice-principal and principal. He was highly-respected by students, teachers and school district administrators. He retired in 1986.
For many years, he and his wife Joyce lived on a 10-acre farm in South Surrey where they raised their seven children. Both he and Joyce were also deeply involved with Camp Alexandra in Crescent Beach.
His example had a lasting effect on the lives of many people.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.