After remaining tight-lipped on the budget during two meetings at city hall Monday, two Safe Surrey councillors are defending their support of the plan that some have deemed a “disaster” that “guts and bleeds the city dry” to create the city’s own police force.
After ignoring two requests at council Monday night to spell out their reasons for supporting the budget, councillors Laurie Guerra and Doug Elford told the Now-Leader Tuesday that their Safe Surrey team campaigned on creating a new force – and they intend to deliver on that promise.
The five-year budget is taking heat for its hiring freeze on Surrey RCMP officers and firefighters, among other things.
All four councillors remaining on Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey team chose not to speak at the hearing nor ahead of the vote to give the budget third reading Monday.
On Tuesday, Guerra told the Now-Leader that she believes Surrey needs a municipal force in order to change to a policing model “that bigger cities need to have.”
“I’m not going to go backwards, and I’m not going to feel bad to stick with what I said, to my word,” Guerra said, noting that all of council unanimously voted to cancel the RCMP contract and initiate a transition immediately after being sworn in last fall, and that some have since “changed their minds.”
“So now that we’re way down that road, the ship has sailed as far as I’m concerned, and now we’ve got to pay for it,” she added. “That’s no surprise.”
Guerra also defended the move not to hire any more RCMP officers, saying it can take up to a year to receive requested officers.
“So to do a hire a year out it doesn’t really make a lot of sense,” she said. “I didn’t speak directly to Dwayne (McDonald, chief of Surrey RCMP), but I did speak directly to our fire chief and he did say that we were good for no new hires, they’re going to keep the city safe with no new hires… We have to do five-year budgets, but we will definitely look at them individually every year and change them out if need be.”
Why didn’t she defend her position at Monday’s meeting after independent Councillor Steven Pettigrew asked her and her Safe Surrey colleagues to?
Guerra said Pettigrew was “completely out of line.”
“He has all day to talk to all of us, in our offices, we talk to him all the time,” she said. “It’s just a game of politics, I guess, that’s being played. I don’t take kindly to that.
“I had a whole kind of thing written out, but basically you can’t win. You almost have to agree to disagree on things because I don’t want to be disrespectful to my colleagues, I’m certainly not going to be disrespectful to the public, and when they have their voices to be heard then they need their voices heard.”
Guerra said she’s received “threatening” emails following the Monday night decision.
“Some of the people that got up last night have have publicly sworn and yelled at myself and Councillor (Allison) Patton…. They come at you with personal stuff. And it’s all because you want to transition to the municipal police force. It’s actually shameful to see some people behave in the way that they behaved. I don’t paint them all with the same brush, believe me, a lot of the people disagreed with the position that I had but they said it so respectfully and basically it turns into a ‘we’ll have to agree to disagree’ position…. Sometimes when you when you just can’t win you just have to, you know, keep your mouth shut and and and be patient. This type of position is not for the faint of heart.
Guerra said there’s “always going to be trade-offs” in a budget when embarking on big infrastructure projects like the municipal force.
“We’re growing so fast that we’re going to play catch-up here and there, of course we are, but we’re doing things as far as bringing schools and we’re phasing development, so schools can come faster and that’s a provincial issue. I know we’re hoping to get in a new hospital, you know, so all of that kind of stuff is infrastructure and it’s coming and we are doing what we can with it.”
“You’re never going to please everybody,” she said. “So you do have to look at what’s in the best interest of the City of Surrey.”
For his part, Councillor Doug Elford said the Safe Surrey councillors not speaking on Monday came down to “individual choices.”
“I thought it wasn’t necessary to speak, I knew the media would come to us the next day or the day after,” Elford told the Now-Leader Tuesday. “I was a little worried about some of the people there as well. They weren’t inappropriate, but there could potentially be an issue there. So I felt that it wasn’t appropriate to speak at the time.”
Elford echoed Guerra’s sentiment that the budget approval is the Safe Surrey team following through on its campaign promises.
“It was a challenging hearing last night,” he said. “I have a lot of empathy for them up there but you probably are well aware I have been a supporter of the municipal police force for a long time and and so this budget is basically revolves around the fact that we’ve got to get a our municipal police force up and running.”
What does Elford say to the critics who say Surrey will be less safe with no new officers and firefighters in the meantime?
“I’m not an expert on policing or fire so it’s hard to comment on how it affects the safety, I just know from a personal point of view that we don’t see, in my particular neighbourhood, the police enough. I’ve been saying this for many years: We need to get our resources allocated so there’s more boots on the ground. And I think that can be done within the resources that are there.”
Elford said he’s been a victim of crime recently.
The councillor told the Now-Leader that earlier this fall, someone broke into his home in the middle of the night while he was sleeping.
“I actually chased the guy out of my living room, I had one of those burglars I was talking about, come into my home. And I just had Christmas decorations stolen the other day. I live it, I feel it and I see it. That’s why I’m very passionate about a change. We’re looking at a fundamental, huge change in how policing happens…. When I say I want to make Surrey a safer more live-able community, I believe we have to do this because it hasn’t worked for me in all my time in Surrey.
Elford also pointed out the budget includes $1 million for a new park in downtown Newton, which was “critical” for him, as well as the establishment of an ethics commissioner.
“I can live with this budget.”