COLUMN: Close attention being paid to actions of Surrey politicians

Surrey’s bid to establish its own police force sits on a knife edge.

It is inconceivable that the final decision by Solicitor Gen. Mike Farnworth on approving a plan to set up a Surrey Police force will not in some way be affected by the split on Surrey council and within the community over the move. The divide on council became a chasm on July 18, when Coun. Jack Hundial left Safe Surrey Coalition, specifically over Mayor Doug McCallum’s abolition of the public safety committee, but more generally over the handling of the police transition issue since the election.

Hundialhe is also a former member of Surrey RCMP and thus has significant actual policing experience in Surrey. He has stuck with the Safe Surrey Coalition majority until this point, despite Couns. Brenda Locke’s and Steven Pettigrew’s departures, and also in spite of significant backlash within the community over the policing issue.

There are now four councillors opposing Safe Surrey Coalition, and many 5-4 votes on council loom ahead. If one other SSC councillor leaves (and given the descriptions the dissidents give of how McCallum has interacted with his supposed teammates, that is not impossible), the mayor will be unable to achieve much of his agenda.

The policing issue has been characterized by a number of missteps. Concerns about Surrey RCMP’s handling of a number of high-profile cases, notably three unsolved murders of innocent people last spring, ensured that policing would be a key election issue. The three leading candidates for mayor all wanted change, but only McCallum said the RCMP would be replaced with a new Surrey Police force. Both Tom Gill and Bruce Hayne were open to change, but wanted much more public consultation. If either had been elected mayor, a policing transition would still be on the table.

McCallum interpreted his victory and the election of seven of eight SSC council candidates as being all the consultation he needed. However, the policing issue is far more complicated than that. Consultation with the community, and with council, should have been a necessary component of any transition. That did not happen.

In his announcement that he was leaving SSC, Hundial said in his statement, “I have had only one 30-minute meeting with the mayor on public safety where he stated that he was not interested in my input.” That speaks volumes about McCallum’s approach.

Hundial interprets the SSC victory in part to his inclusion on the team of candidates, and that is an accurate interpretation. SSC won because it took a clear stance on two key issues – SkyTrain vs. LRT, and policing. The inclusion of people like Locke, Hundial and Pettigrew on the coalition’s slate, all of whom had profiles within the city, played a part in that victory.

The policing-transition report was prepared without any input from councillors. When it was complete, they got a quick look at it – and that was it. There was no consultation and no vote. The public, of course, was also left out of the process completely.

Coun. Doug Elford, another SSC councillor with a high profile before the election, supports the mayor’s actions and wants an independent police force. He says McCallum “gets things done” and is following through on the actions promised in the SSC platform.

The report now sits in Farnworth’s office. He is paying close attention to the actions of Surrey politicians. Staff members in his ministry will analyze the report fully, and will make recommendations to him.

His final decision will be based on all those recommendations and all other relevant factors – including both local and provincial politics.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. Email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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