A rally is being planned outside Surrey City Hall on Monday night before council is set to vote on officially adopting its controversial budget.
“It’s not a protest,” said Mike Starchuk, a former firefighter and former Surrey councillor who is helping organize the event and will serve as emcee. “It’s definitely a rally.”
The controversial five-year financial plan – which budgets $45.2 million for Surrey’s new police department transition, and another $84.4 million in “additional” operating costs – has faced fierce criticism for its hiring freeze on firefighters and Surrey RCMP officers next year. Equally controversial has been what some see as under investment in civic amenity projects, such as rec centres and ice rinks.
Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey team on Dec. 2 passed the plan in a 5-4 vote following dozens of people voicing strong opposition to the budget – and the proposed policing transition – during a midday hearing earlier that day.
Surrey Council is now set to vote on its final adoption Monday (Dec. 16), in a meeting that starts at 7 p.m.
The rally against the budget is to begin just after 6 p.m. and is being referred to as “Speak Up Surrey,” said Starchuk.
“These people are speaking up and wanting council to speak up. What came out of the last council meeting is that the mayor and his team did not speak up in chambers,” he said, of the public hearing and subsequent vote to pass the controversial budget. “They were asked to, by other colleagues, to speak up in chambers and they came up with, for lack of a better word, excuses as to why they didn’t do it.
“That, to me, is part of the problem with the current council,” he added. “When we think about ‘Speak Up Surrey,’ what we’re asking is for those people to tell us why no rec centres, no pools, is a good thing.”
He said he’d be “very surprised to see less than 1,000 people” show up to the rally.
Starchuk said there are an estimated seven speakers in the lineup, including widow Darlene Bennett whose husband was killed in a shooting in their driveway in 2018, as well as representatives from the first responder and business communities. He noted those behind the “Keep the Surrey RCMP” campaign will also be speaking.
Starchuk stressed the event would be “done orderly and respectfully.”
The plan is for the rally to conclude minutes before the 7 p.m. meeting begins in council chambers, during which the budget vote is set to occur.
Starchuk said he’s not participating in the rally because he’s politically motivated to do so.
“I’ve lived in Surrey for more than 50 years and I find this budget morally and ethically irresponsible,” he said. “The next election is three years away and that’s an awful long time to commit at this point as to running or not. Having said all of the above, and if this council keeps going in the direction it’s going, I’d have to think that there will be a lot of people supporting and wanting me in three years to step up.”
Another issue for Starchuk is the timing. Starchuk referred to comments from the head of the policing transition task force, former attorney general Wally Oppal, that it could be two to three years before the transition is complete.
“Why are we spending $40 million for 2020 that we don’t have to spend? Even if it comes to fruition, there’s no need, if it’s going to be two to three years down the road, there’s no need to build that nest egg next year,” said Starchuk. “Take $40 million and build a rec centre and build some sheets of ice in Cloverdale.”
Starchuk said the vote to officially adopt the budget Monday is a decision councillors will “have to live with the rest of their lives.”
“They have to know that based on all the facts in front of us right now the 2020 budget does not require that amount of money to go into it – even in preparation for a police force.”
Oppal spoke with the Now-Leader on Wednesday, and while he could not provide a definitive timeline, he said “as far as getting a completion and boots on the ground timeline, it probably would take two years. I don’t know. But it’s a slow process because it’s a difficult process in that we’re establishing a police force from the ground up.”
On Dec. 2, Mayor Doug McCallum told reporters the committee’s report would be in the hands of the minister on Dec. 11, which Oppal disputed the following day.
On Dec. 11, Oppal told the Now-Leader “there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
“We had a meeting yesterday and there’s quite a bit of work to be done. I can’t put a timeline on it,” he said. “This is a huge task and the binder that we have is now about four to five inches thick and it keeps getting more material added to it…. In August, the Solicitor General gave Surrey the green light to proceed with establishing their own police force. What that really means is Surrey now has to give enough evidence and enough particulars and enough information that would warrant the province taking the next step. That’s what we’re doing.”