Frank Bucholtz

AND FRANKLY: There’s plenty for Surrey voters to consider before Oct. 15

Next six months should prove interesting, writes Frank Bucholtz

Doug McCallum will get his day in court – two weeks after the municipal election.

The Surrey mayor is facing a charge of public mischief in connection with an incident in September, 2021. A seven-day trial is to start on Oct. 31. Election day is Oct. 15.

Most people who pay attention to Surrey politics have strong opinions on McCallum. He is either esteemed or loathed. Few people are neutral about him.

Thus there is plenty of interest in this case, and some question as to why the trial has been delayed until after the election. It is likely due to the fact that it is planned for seven days, and freeing up a judge’s time and a courtroom for that length of time often requires some fine-tuning.

The delayed trial is made more interesting because the provincial government is planning changes to the Local Government Act and Community Charter that would directly impact this case. When those changes are adopted into law (which may not take place until later this year or even next spring), an elected municipal official will have to go on paid leave when charged with an offence.

If the changes were in place already, McCallum would have to step aside, at least until his trial is over. However, he will not have to resign his position if he is found guilty.

The changes to the relevant legislation will require officials who are convicted to step aside at the time of conviction – but only if they are found guilty of an indictable offence. Special prosecutor Richard Fowler has said McCallum’s case is proceeding on the basis of summary conviction.

Thus the changes that are proposed will not apply to his particular case.

Public mischief is known as a “hybrid” offence, meaning charges can proceed as either indictable or summary conviction.

Thus McCallum’s running in the next election isn’t as major a concern as it could be. If he is elected, and then convicted, he stays in office, and no byelection would be necessary.

At this point in time, it seems likely that McCallum will get about 35 per cent of the vote.

This is dependent on there being three or more candidates, as seems likely. Coun. Brenda Locke is the only other declared candidate now. Despite what those who dislike him think, he stands a decent chance of re-election.

Many people support his move to bring in Surrey Police. If his mayoral opponents primarily campaign on that issue, they will probably lose. It is far from the only issue facing Surrey voters. If several candidates are focusing on getting rid of Surrey Police, that gives those voters who support the police transition a clear choice.

There is no question that McCallum’s defence will cost taxpayers plenty (in the hundreds of thousands), and having a criminal charge hanging around your neck while campaigning presents its own series of challenges. Those two factors may erode McCallum’s support sufficiently to make his chances of winning re-election much slimmer.

The next six months will be very interesting. Surrey residents who plan to vote need to play close attention.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

Columnmunicipal politics