Frank Bucholtz

AND FRANKLY: It’s time for a referendum on Surrey police transition

Public consultation on the issue has been lacking since the beginning

Surrey Connect mayoral candidate Brenda Locke has expanded on her pledge to end the transition towards the Surrey Police service.

Announcement of a contract between the police union and the new service last week caused her to double down on that pledge, saying that contract will impose even more of a burden on taxpayers.

Locke voted for the new police service at the inaugural meeting of the new council way back in November, 2018.

At the time, she was part of newly elected Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition slate. Every member of council voted for the transition to go ahead, including Surrey Electors Team Coun. Linda Annis, the lone non-SSC candidate elected. All but McCallum were brand-new to municipal politics.

SSC Coun. Laurie Guerra notes that Locke campaigned in 2018 on cancelling the RCMP contract and beginning a transition to Surrey Police “on day one.”

The lack of information about costs, the secretive and combative approach adopted by McCallum, the support by the province for the transition and numerous questionable political maneuvers, one of which ended in the mayor facing charges of public mischief, have placed the policing transition front and centre over the past three and a half years.

However, there is a police board, there is a chief and senior management in place, a medium-sized coterie of front-line officers have been hired and SPS has been working with Surrey RCMP to prepare to take over.

Is it really wise to completely shut the door on the new police service?

Not without proper public consultation, in my view. That’s the one thing which has been lacking since day one.

If Locke is elected mayor, and has enough support on council (which is certainly not a given), she will have the votes to shut down the service. However, the best move would be to put all the costs, past and present, and expected future costs, out to the public – and ask for their decision in a binding referendum. Ideally that would be held as part of this fall’s election.

Even if McCallum’s majority on council doesn’t let it happen then, such a move need not be time-consuming.

It is quite possible to do a detailed summary of the costs within a few months of the municipal election. Those details can then be shared with taxpayers by mail, and widely circulated online.

A referendum date can be set, and those who support the new police service and those who want it shut down can campaign for their respective positions.

A standalone referendum will be costly, given that Surrey is a city of over 550,000 people, but it will provide the clarity and citizen-backing that’s been missing from the beginning. It will end the uncertainty.

If taxpayers do not want to go ahead with the new service, it can be wound down (and the costs of doing so need to be shared as part of the summary).

Surrey RCMP will stay in charge of city policing.

If the decision is to proceed with the new service, it can continue to hire officers, which continues to be a big challenge, and the transition will continue.

Arbitrary actions by any mayor without consulting taxpayers, on such an important and costly matter, are not the way to go.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

Columnmunicipal politicsSurrey