B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and B.C. Premier John Horgan. (Black Press Media files)

BC Votes 2020

Liberal leader says referendum on Surrey’s policing transition would be in first half of 2021

Surrey Councillor Doug Elford accuses Liberals of performing a ‘defecation on democracy’

It’s safe to say Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson has thrown a box of tarantulas at Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s plan to replace the Surrey RCMP with a city-made police force.

If the Liberals win the provincial election, and if they keep their campaign promise to hold a referendum on Surrey’s policing transition, and if the required majority of Surrey residents vote in a binding referendum to keep the Surrey RCMP and abandon the plan to set up a city police force, then the Safe Surrey Coalition will – as far as governance and civic politics goes – have presided over probably the most expensive and epic project fail in Surrey’s history.

But that’s a lot of ifs.

The Liberals dropped a local campaign bombshell on Sunday, saying if they form government after the Oct. 24 provincial election they will not only “pause” the policing transition process – which has been in the works for nearly two years now – but they will also hold a referendum on the matter.

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Monday that since the election was called the party has been knocking on doors “all over Surrey,” and people are “very worried about the cost of this police force and they have no idea what it’s going to cost.

“It’s time for a pause, it’s time to clarify the cost, let the people in Surrey know what they’re going to pay, and then have a referendum and let them decide. The Referendum Act of British Columbia provides that authority and it seems a very reasonable response to the concerns of half a million people about how much they’re going to have to pay.”

Asked when and how a referendum would be held, if the Liberals form government, and what the question will be, Wilkinson told the Now-Leader that Surrey residents are entitled to know how much a new police force will cost.


“What we have said is get the costs out on the table, tell people what it will cost them because we’re hearing on the doorsteps in Surrey that people are strapped for cash these days,” Wilkinson said. “They’re really not interested in having their existing fire services, community services compromised to pay for a new police force.”

“Tell them what the costs will be, then let them vote on it. The Referendum Act provides that authority, and that should be done as soon as possible,” he told the Now-Leader. “The people of Surrey are entitled to know what’s going on and that information will have to be put out to the people of Surrey as soon as possible, they’ll have to figure out how it affects them personally, and then they’ll have to make a decision. So the referendum would come after a public engagement process, which shouldn’t take too too much time, so I’d expect the referendum would certainly happen sometime in the first half of 2021.”

Surrey’s controversial policing transition has been tossed around like a political hot potato between the Liberals and NDP since the outset of the campaign. BC NDP Leader John Horgan said Sept. 30 that Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum opened a “hornets’ nest” when he moved to replace the Surrey RCMP with a city-made police force, “and Mayor McCallum is responsible for it.”

When the Now-Leader sought McCallum’s response to this, City of Surrey communications project manager Amber Stowe replied in an email last week that “Mayor McCallum will not be commenting on the provincial election.”

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Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum poses with an example of a Surrey Police cruiser after his State of the City Address at Civic Hotel on May 7, 2019. (File photo)

But McCallum clearly had a change of heart on Sunday, issuing a statement in which he re-iterated the Surrey Police Service is “a done deal” and accused the BC Liberals of “playing politics with the public safety” of Surrey residents.

“I am appalled that the BC Liberal Leader has stooped to this level of desperation in an effort to garner votes,” McCallum said. “Surrey City Council acted in accordance with the law when we unanimously voted to transition to a municipal police service. For the BC Liberals to interfere in the unanimous decision of an elected city council should be a concern to all municipal governments in our province.”

READ ALSO: Surrey Police Service a ‘done deal,’ major insists

Port Coquitlam BC NDP candidate Mike Farnworth, who was B.C.’s solicitor general, also slammed what he called the BC Liberals’ “misguided proposal to interfere in a Surrey municipal policing decision.

“This is a major violation of the relationship with a municipal level of government and an unwarranted interference in the affairs of the city of Surrey,” Farnworth charged. “The law makes it clear that this is a municipal decision. The role of the provincial government is to ensure public safety is maintained and that is what we will continue to do.

At Surrey council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5th, 2018 it served notice to the provincial and federal governments it is ending its contract with the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up its own force. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth on Aug. 22, 2019 gave the city the go-ahead to pursue the plan.

Surrey city Councillor Doug Elford said it’s the “silly season, where promises are made.

“My understanding is that this is a done deal and it can’t be overturned,” Elford said of the policing transition.

“I would say it’s a defecation on democracy,” Elford said of the Liberal’s position on it. “It really creates a precedent that other municipalities in this province have to be concerned about. It’s really a slippery slope they’re going down here.”

READ ALSO: Fight to keep Surrey RCMP ‘not over,’ campaign vows

Opponents of the policing transition have vowed to actively campaign against Surrey’s NDP MLA incumbents heading up to the Oct. 24 provincial election, accusing them of sitting on their hands while the opponents fight for more transparency from the province and city hall.

Asked if he’s concerned about his Surrey MLA incumbents’ prospect for re-election if a concerted campaign is mounted by opponents of the policing transition to oust them from office, Horgan had this so say.

“Well, I’m not,” he told the Now-Leader. “I’m concerned about the issue, I’m not concerned about the competence of my team. I know that all this isn’t about pats on the back all the time, sometimes you have to take a bit of a poke in the face, they know that.

“We’ve got a pretty seasoned group here, but I’m not skating away from the issue. These are divisive issues that were brought to us by the election of a new council and a new mayor in Surrey and we’re working with the community as best as we can to make sure they know all of the information, to make sure they understand what the costs of a transition will be, what the impacts will be on the delivery of services.

Horgan also told reporters during an NDP campaign presser in Surrey it‘s an “issue that’s the responsibility of the local mayor and council.

“Ultimately the decision rests with council. I suggest – and I have suggested repeatedly, my colleagues here know this full well, they hear it in their constituency offices and around the community all the time – this is a divisive issue. Mayor McCallum opened up the hornets’ nest, and Mayor McCallum is responsible for it.”

READ ALSO: Solicitor General has ‘no illusions’ about acrimony over Surrey’s police transition

READ ALSO: Surrey policing transition committee report forwarded to Wally Oppal



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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