COLUMN: Safe Surrey Coalition increasingly divided

SCC is no longer safe for those with dissenting opinions, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz

The Safe Surrey Coalition is no longer safe for those with dissenting opinions, and it isn’t much of a coalition any more.

Coun. Brenda Locke left the coalition on Thursday (June 26), citing numerous actions by Mayor Doug McCallum. She is also seeking legal advice about comments McCallum made about her, when she expressed concern about how the size of the proposed Surrey Police force would affect Sophie’s Place, an agency which helps children who are victims of abuse.

She is the second of the seven councillors who were elected from the slate in October (along with McCallum), to depart. Coun. Steven Pettigrew left several weeks ago.

McCallum threatened Pettigrew with expulsion from the council chambers on Monday night (June 24), which may have been a last straw for Locke.

Locke’s departure is much more ominous for McCallum.

She was the only person voted onto to council, other than McCallum, with elected experience. Locke served a term in the B.C. legislature from 2001 to 2005 as part of the massive B.C. Liberal caucus elected under Premier Gordon Campbell.

Her experience has been very important on a council made of seven brand-new politicians. She has been reasonable and straightforward, and whether McCallum admits it or not, he needed her.

At the root of this split on council is McCallum’s approach to setting up a Surrey Police force.

A report was prepared for the solicitor general, but members of council had no input into it and only briefly saw it before it went off to Victoria.

There was no public consultation, and the community meetings after the report was prepared on policing were meaningless.

A recent press release states that 93 to 98 per cent of residents support the mayor’s initiative on policing. These numbers are based on questionnaires at the community meetings. The questions were designed to obtain that type of support, and McCallum’s claim about the “overwhelming support” is similar to claims made in places like China and North Korea.

The entire policing plan could easily go off the rails. Coun. Jack Hundial, a former RCMP officer who is still with the SSC, has significant problems with the transition report. If one more councillor changes his or her mind, McCallum will be on the losing end of a 5-4 vote.

One of the reasons that McCallum was elected is that he promised his coalition was a team of independents who agreed on a couple of major issues – notably a new Surrey Police force and scrapping LRT in favour of SkyTrain. When they started to show some independence, he balked. Despite the example from his predecessor, Surrey council is not a one-person show.

McCallum could soon join the ranks of other (former) mayors who have fought with their councils – and lost. It recently occurred in Nanaimo, and a decade ago there was an active council revolt (by an 8-1 margin) in Langley Township. Despite the bravado, mayors only have one vote at a council meeting. Without the support of a majority, their plans are doomed.

It’s not in McCallum’s nature to mend fences, and it seems he is determined to forge ahead on the police force without any meaningful input from council or the public.

He could end up powerless, and it could happen soon.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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