Bob Campbell has resigned from Surrey’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee. He joins other prominent environmentalists who have left the group in frustration over the years.

Surrey environmental watchdog quits city advisory committee, citing mistreatment

Bob Campbell resigns; critics claim city council is more concerned with optics than environmental action.

A high-profile member of Surrey’s environmental committee has quit in protest of the way he’s been treated and the dysfunction of the committee itself.

Bob Campbell, a five-year member of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC) sent in his resignation letter to council last month.

Campbell is the recipient of several community awards, including the Queen’s Jubilee and the City of Surrey’s Friends of Heritage Award for his activism over the years. He was also vice-chair of ESAC for three years.

He’s been openly critical of several environmental issues, including Surrey’s loss of tree canopy and the creation of a galvanizing plant in South Surrey.

He says in his letter of resignation he was often derided by the former chair of the committee, Surrey Coun. Bruce Hayne.

“I was openly mocked by the previous chair when I attempted to raise and discuss important issues,” Campbell writes in the June 26 letter obtained by The Leader.

He says he took an active role in the community on environmental issues, often receiving calls from the media about them.

“My activism was rewarded on January 16,  when I received a most inappropriate letter from Councillor Hayne in which he accuses me of speaking out of turn to the media,” Campbell writes in the letter, which was sent to all city councillors.

In his correspondence with Campbell, Hayne took issue with two stories where he felt Campbell was speaking on behalf of ESAC.

“There are only two people or groups who are authorized to speak on behalf of the committee (or any other advisory committee), and those are the chair, or members of city staff authorized to speak on behalf of the city,” Hayne said in the letter, in which he suggests there will be a cost for speaking publicly.

“I will not be supporting any motion to have you continue as vice chair of the committee in 2015,  although I will be stepping down myself,” Hayne wrote to Campbell.

The letter was sent to the city clerk and the new ESAC chair, Coun. Mike Starchuk.

Subsequently, Campbell was replaced as vice-chair.

“Clearly it was his intent to pass on his false accusations and this ‘punishment’ to the new Chair and perhaps other committee members.”

Reached for comment Tuesday, Hayne said he never mocked Campbell in any way. He said his approach to keeping committee comment confined to those authorized was entirely appropriate.

“It’s unfortunate it has come to this,” Hayne said, adding Campbell has a lot to offer the community.

Campbell continues in the resignation letter to note that the committee is floundering.

“The effectiveness of the (ESAC) committee in its current form to facilitate real, constructive environmental change is very low,” the Panorama Ridge resident writes.

Former ESAC chair Al Schultze said Campbell’s resignation represents a huge loss for the committee.

“Certainly, Bob Campbell was the most effective member,” Schultze told The Leader Tuesday. “I am saddened by his decision – he was the last of several members of that body who truly fended for the environment…  He now joins other prominent members of the Committee like Drs. Tom Godwin and Roy Strang who departed in frustration about 10 years ago.”

In 2004, Godwin left the committee when he decided recommendations were falling on deaf ears of council.

“Although we are supposed to be advisory to council, we are completely ignored, and our suggestions fall on deaf ears,” Godwin wrote in his resignation letter.

Strang said at the time that the environment committee may be a watchdog, but it has no teeth.

Bill Stewart, who sat on the committee for eight years, said the loss of Campbell is extremely unfortunate.

Stewart said he often saw Hayne roll his eyes when Campbell chimed in on a subject at ESAC meetings. While Stewart is not on the committee anymore, he understands the situation has worsened.

Some members of the committee have said it appears council isn’t necessarily concerned that ESAC is doing something, so much as appearing that it’s doing something.

Many members feel things worsened significantly in 2011 when the city chose to install a councillor as chair of the civic committee, rather than have them duly elected at the committee level.

Now, the city, through the councillor, controls the agenda.

“As Bob (Campbell) pointed out, the chair diverts important issues dealing with the environment and controls the agenda so that such topics do not come up for discussion,” Schultze said.