Surrey councillors continue to be divided about the five-year budget – and about Monday’s raucous meeting where council officially adopted it.
In a series of 5-4 votes, and amid a rambunctious crowd, council passed more than 30 motions relating to the budget in under five minutes.
Due to the tension, Mayor Doug McCallum called two recesses and after returning from the first, prevented any additional councillors from speaking to the budget, citing “safety conditions.”
Tuesday morning (Dec. 17), following the boisterous meeting, the Now-Leader spoke with several councillors about the meeting.
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) December 17, 2019
During the budget portion of Monday’s meetings, Councillor Laurie Guerra was the only councillor who was given the opportunity to speak. Following her comments, the gallery erupted into clapping, yelling, booing and cheering. It was then that McCallum called the first recess, which lasted a little more than 10 minutes.
On Tuesday, Guerra said that even before she finished speaking, people were “using profanity and swearing at me.” She said it was “just vile, and it was quite shocking.”
“I have no problem with people being against opinion… It’s so disrespectful on so many levels,” said Guerra, adding that it didn’t seem like people were going to follow the rules.
“(It was) getting a bit scary.”
When it came to the first recess, McCallum and his Safe Surrey councillors Guerra, Allison Patton, Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra all left council chambers.
“I’m glad we left when we did… I have felt a bit uneasy at times before when Councillor (Steven) Pettigrew starts to stand up and yell and scream,” said Guerra.
She was referring to when Pettigrew stood up, and said to McCallum, “Mr. Mayor, you will let us speak… You’re a pathetic leader… You should resign.”
In a show of defiance, he then turned his back on mayor and council for a brief period.
“I don’t run that way,” Guerra said. “That’s just not what I see from adults that’s not what I expect from elected officials. I can understand getting upset, but just keep that respect level and keep the protocol in place of respectful dialogue even if you disagree.”
Guerra said she and the councillors who left the meeting were in agreement with the mayor’s actions.
“Not only were they not listening to councillor Patton who wanted to talk, they weren’t going to listen to anybody that wanted to talk,” she said. “Because when one side was critical of what I was saying or what councillor Patton was saying, then the other side is going to start being critical of what the other side is going to say. You kind of lose our rights to be heard, and not because we didn’t want to listen to what everybody had to say, but because the audience, or the gallery was not going to co-operate.”
Guerra said the councillors were told by leaving, it “encourages” people to calm down. She said the other councillors were told to leave as well, but refused.
Councillor Brenda Locke said she was unable to hear during the meeting, not only due to the shouting, but also because she felt the mayor was speaking quietly.
“I didn’t see any reason to leave the chamber. I was there to do the people’s business and I think we should have just stayed and waited for the staff and security to deal with the room,” Locke said. “I think the mayor clearly had no control over the meeting. I think he felt that he should just drive through his agenda and I think it was completely inappropriate.”
Locke said she felt that Monday’s meeting was “a real breach of democracy in our city and that’s been terrible.”
While McCallum and the four Safe Surrey Coalition councillors powered through the budget motions, both Locke and Pettigrew were asking the mayor for a point of order.
“He was just pushing through the agenda and I didn’t know where we were in the agenda,” Locke said about her reason for trying to call a point of order. “I wanted to speak to some issues, not just around policing. There were lots of other issues that were a concern; the road tax levy, there was some questions I had for staff around utilities, there was all kinds of issues that had to come forward.”
Asked her thoughts on how divided council seems, Locke said it has been divided since last year’s budget “when the mayor decided, and his team decided, that the kids in Cloverdale couldn’t have their arena.”
“So this is not anything new. We certainly have tried to work with this mayor,” she said. “He does not believe in democracy or debate and I think that was pretty evident yesterday.”
Councillor Linda Annis said Monday’s meeting was “very unfortunate,” adding that it’s “very disturbing” to her that council is so divided.
“We need to get down to business and we need to be doing what the residents elected us to do and that was to represent them and represent what their wishes are. I think council needs to rally behind that and get back to what we were elected to do,” Annis said.
Last night’s angry council meeting showed what’s wrong with mayor and his four councillors—nothing matters except their proposed Surrey police dep. Last night showed they have stopped listening to Surrey voters.
— Linda Annis (@LindaAnnisBC) December 17, 2019
Asked if she felt unsafe at any point, Annis said, “absolutely not.”
“While the people were very vocal, there was no attempts at any physical altercation.”
Annis said she didn’t think there was a need for the councillors to leave chambers.
“I think that was shortsighted. There was some concern that things might get out of control there, but clearly, security was there and we were well taken care of,” Annis said. “I didn’t feel there was any concern for us to leave and I felt that we should be staying with the people that came to attend the council meeting.”
She said it was “a very emotional subject on both sides of the budget issue.”
“I think the audience, particularly those that were supportive of the Surrey RCMP, are very frustrated because they’re feeling that the mayor is not listening to what they’re saying,” Annis said. “They’re not taking into account what they’re asking for and they’re very frustrated and I think that came out loud and clear in the meeting last night.”
For her part, Patton said she thought it was “very wise” that McCallum didn’t allow anyone else to speak. Patton was up next to speak after Guerra, but due to continuous yelling, McCallum called the first recess and prevented the rest of council from speaking once the meeting started up again.
“There are certain behaviours that can happen and when there’s emotions in a room. I think that’s what we were seeing, some human behavior,” said Patton, adding that staff worked “really hard” to calm people down.
“I’m glad our mayor thought about people’s safety first.”
Despite being able to voice her comments during the meeting, Patton said “there was ample opportunity for all of us to speak” before the Dec. 16 meeting. She said there were “many” closed meetings about the budget where councillors were able to to say, adding that she was “pretty satisfied” with what she and her colleagues have been able to say in the past.
Patton said she knew there could be some division a the meeting, but she “didn’t know exactly what would come.”
“That’s the nice thing about democracy and being in a public space, you allow people to behave how they want to behave and then you get to watch it and understand people better through it,” she told the Now-Leader.
As for whether she thinks council is more divided now, Patton said she thinks Surrey is “one of the most functional councils in Metro Vancouver.”
“As surprising as this sounds, I’m really proud of our council and I like that we have diverse voices on council.”