Here are the top five Surrey stories in 2022 that “had legs,” an expression in journalism that’s assigned to a story that continues to develop beyond a single report and headline.
1. Policing transition
It’s still very much a page-turner, with the final chapter yet to be written.
The fate of the city’s controversial policing transition from the Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service is still to be determined by Surrey Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth as we begin the new year, following unforeseen twists in this story in 2022.
The Surrey Police Service continued to ramp up its ranks, as did the rhetoric from those for and against the transition, throughout the year. In February, the SPS announced it expected to deploy 175 more officers in 2022, under Surrey RCMP Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards’ command, to bring the total to 225 by the year’s end. That same month, critics deemed the SPS’s first strategic plan for 2022 light on substance but proponents called for patience.
In March, city councillor and Surrey Connect mayoral candidate Brenda Locke doubled down on her pledge, if elected, to stop the transition in its tracks, citing a need for transparency and a feasibility study.
The issue was front and centre during a protracted election campaign.
Chief Constable Norm Lipinski (left) of Surrey Police Service with Surrey RCMP Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards. (File photo)
The conflict, as in years past, continued to wend its way through the news but really went into overdrive during the campaign leading up to the Oct. 15 civic election.
After Locke won, with a Surrey Connect majority on council, she soon began a process of “untransitioning” toward retaining the Surrey RCMP as the city’s police of jurisdiction, with SPS Chief Constable Norm Lipinski countering that it was already “too far down the road.”
Nevertheless, Locke’s majority on council instructed city staff to prepare a final report for Farnworth’s consideration, toward retaining the Surrey RCMP, which the minister received on Dec. 15. He’s expected to render his decision some time in early January.
Meantime, a war of words continues on social media platforms, like Twitter, between fans of both the SPS and Surrey RCMP.
2. A new city council
Early on, Surrey’s civic election campaign featured two mayoral contenders – Brenda Locke, for Surrey Connect, and incumbent Doug McCallum, for the Safe Surrey Coalition. McCallum had the distinct disadvantage of having a criminal trial hanging over him on a charge of public mischief, with the trial and his subsequent acquittal happening weeks after the votes were cast.
Surrey NDP MLA Jinny Sims joined the race, as mayoral candidate for Surrey Forward, followed by Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal becoming mayoral candidate for United Surrey, Gordon Hogg becoming mayoral candidate for Surrey First, Amrit Birring running for mayor with People’s Council Surrey and Independent mayoral candidates Kuldip Pelia and John Wolanski also tossing hats into the ring.
All told, Surrey saw 24 women and 39 men run for a council seat during a bitterly fought campaign with some spectacular election promises made, the largest probably being McCallum’s vow to build a 60,000-seat stadium here.
McCallum lost the mayor’s seat to Locke by a slim 973 votes. Conceding defeat on election night, he later decided to request a judicial recount but eventually relented.
The last four-year term saw McCallum and his SSC mayority have its way on council, manifested in 5-4 votes.
While Locke’s term as mayor is not expected to reprise the historic degree of acrimony between community groups and council as was the case during McCallum’s term as mayor, what is expected is more of the same 5-4 voting dominance, this time from her group, as Locke and four Surrey Connect councillors now hold the majority.
Surrey’s voter turnout was 34.54 per cent. Surrey First Education once again dominated the school trustee race.
3. Cost of living
It was a rough year financially on pretty much everyone, with dizzying price increases on groceries, gasoline, rent, mortgages, and almost everything else with no indication of relief anytime soon.
Belt-tightening brought on by inflation, supply issues and international strife like the war in Ukraine, has also resulted in less support for charities such as food banks at a time when more people are relying on them.
The Now-Leader published a six-part series on the issue, entitled Costly Living, beginning with housing costs in part one and part two, debilitating fuel prices in part three, and grocery prices becoming “crazy expensive” in part four.
Part five of the series looked at how inflation and rising interest rates have forced Surrey residents to change the way they spend, while part six explores a growing ‘Buy Nothing’ movement in Surrey as people look to give and receive gifts in an effort to get by.
What more can be said, other than if you haven’t personally felt the bite, you are truly in a very small minority.
4. COVID-19 restrictions relaxed
Last year’s was a winter of discontent as the wrath of anti-vaxxers manifested itself in protest rallies as Surrey’s Pacific Highway Border Crossing in tandem with a so-called “Freedom Convoy” of truckers who, along with supporters, essentially closed downtown Ottawa and Surrey Liberal MPs defended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.
In early January, B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urged businesses to set up safety plans and anticipate up to one-third of their staff booking off sick as the Delta variant was replaced by Omicron, a more infectious variety of COVID-19. A local Gurdwara had to cancel a parade on account of the virus, Surrey School District planned for staggered closures and the Christmas break was extended to Jan. 10 from Jan. 3 for most K-12 students.
A few weeks later, B.C. began re-opening gyms and fitness centres while some concerts and plays continued to be postponed and some swimming pools remained closed.
But bit by bit, restrictions began to ease as more people were vaccinated. Still, many people believed this to be too much, too soon. In late March, TransLink’s board of directors heard an earful from delegates, during a virtual meeting, who argued the transit authority lifted its mask mandate prematurely.
According to Surrey Board of Trade’s latest labour market report, Surrey saw an ‘impressive’ 3.9 per cent in job growth in October above that during the onset of the pandemic – roughly 36,500 jobs more than Surrey’s lowest job levels in April 2020.
At this stage in our collective experience with COVID-19, there are those who don’t believe there was a pandemic, those who are just happy to see that things have opened up once again, and those who think B.C. has let its guard down too soon.
5. The McCallum trial
This one, as you are probably well aware, centred on a parking-lot spat Sept. 4, 2021 outside a grocery store between then-mayor Doug McCallum and a Surrey resident named Debi Johnston, a member of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign, and McCallum’s claim she ran over his foot with her Mustang.
His subsequent charge of public mischief, of which he was accused after police reviewed video surveillance footage of the encounter, hung over McCallum’s head for more than a year and notably throughout his unsuccessful campaign for re-election.
There was considerable hue and cry in the community about Surrey taxpayers having to pick up his legal bills in the case.
He was represented by Richard Peck, a high-profile Vancouver lawyer, and a team of four lawyers. During the election campaign Surrey Connect mayoral candidate Brenda Locke promised that if she was elected she’d make McCallum pay for his own legal costs in this case, rather than Surrey taxpayers footing the bill. After she was elected, Locke said she instructed city staff to that end, “and that they are to seek outside legal for an opinion regarding the city’s obligation.”
McCallum’s trial began on Oct. 31 and concluded on Nov. 9, with Judge Reginald Harris delivering a verdict of not guilty on Nov. 21.
Following the verdict, McCallum read out a short statement, at the courthouse entrance, in which he had a special message for the people of Surrey – “I love you, I love all of you.”
He did not take questions.