COLUMN: Time for a referendum on Surrey policing transition

Six Surrey NDP MLAs should urge Farnworth to change his mind

Fleetwood-Port Kells MP Ken Hardie has offered some timely and cogent thoughts on the transition from Surrey RCMP to a Surrey Police force.

He started off a Facebook post on the topic by stating, “Yes, I may be a federal representative…and I respect the fact that Ottawa does not meddle in provincial or municipal affairs. But I am also a resident and taxpayer in Surrey. As such I will accept the right to comment on the municipal budget.” He also contributed an op-ed to Black Press Media, which can be found on page A20 of today’s Peace Arch News.

Those who read his thoughts could hardly accuse him of meddling. In fact, most will welcome the maturity and thoughtfulness with which the comments are made. They likely wonder what other Surrey MPs and MLAs think of the relentless push for a municipal force by five members of Surrey council, led by the mayor.

Hardie, who was recently elected to his second term as a Liberal MP, represents a community that has seen more than its share of crime. The relentless gang warfare, which seems to target young men in particular, has left its mark in Fleetwood and Port Kells, along with most other areas of Surrey.

Hardie calls for much more transparency. He asks four questions – mainly related to the cost and effectiveness of each model, Surrey RCMP or Surrey Police. He concludes by suggesting answers need to be forthcoming, and the best way to finally settle the issue of whether residents prefer and are willing to pay for a new Surrey Police force is to put the matter to referendum, once all cost figures are available.

It is puzzling why Solicitor General Mike Farnworth decided to approve the transition to Surrey Police, while appointing former judge and attorney general Wally Oppal to oversee the matter. At the same time, he ruled out putting the issue to a referendum. Canadian governments seem to have an aversion to referenda, even though they often offer the best way to move forward and obtain public backing on clearly divisive issues.

The NDP government had no problem putting the question of electoral reform to voters, and has accepted their decision that it should not proceed.

Even though Oppal is now in charge of the transition, Mayor Doug McCallum continues to make political and misleading comments on his work. Last week, he stated that the committee overseeing the transition is almost done its work. Oppal rebuffed him, stating that the work is far from complete and there is no timeline to finish.

At the same time, by a 5-4 vote, council has approved a budget that does not add any police or fire personnel in 2020. The city continues to grow, and demand for front-line service increases, but the five Safe Surrey Coalition members are oblivious to immediate needs.

Surrey RCMP Asst. Cmsr. Dwayne McDonald says Surrey badly needs more police and the new budget will have a “detrimental effect” on policing. His remarks are also met with indifference by the five council members.

Hardie is right. The information about the effectiveness of each model and the actual costs need to be put out to the public, and that should be followed by a referendum.

Surrey residents who feel that makes sense need to not only thank Hardie for his leadership on this issue, but pressure the six NDP MLAs who represent Surrey ridings. They need to tell Farnworth to change his mind and back a referendum.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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