Maybe there is good reason, cynical as it is, why Canadian politicians of all stripes make careers out of not really committing to anything, tip-toeing around issues and coming across as professional obfuscationists.
Heaven forbid a discernible instance of clarity should poke through the fog, for this can lead to probing and clarifying, which can be most unsettling for all but the rarist of politicians.
Perhaps people voted for Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition because the seasoned politician atypically made his position crystal clear on some major issues – setting up SkyTrain, getting rid of LRT, showing the RCMP the door – during the October election.
Perhaps it came across as a breath of fresh air. But since climbing back into the mayor’s chair, McCallum has come across as a politician jealously guarding the messaging out of city hall. If he’s trying for consistency, though, he might well be his own worst enemy.
A case in point is the mayor’s scrum at city hall with reporters last Wednesday (Dec. 19). Remember, the raison d’etre for his Safe Surrey Coalition during the 2014 campaign, as the name suggests, was public safety.
His coalition served up a divided vote on a budget that precludes the hiring of any new RCMP officers for 2019, despite the assistant commissioner having asked for more.
Asked if he’d entertain a reversal of this position, if crime rises, McCallum then served up this dilly: That’s up to the assistant commissioner – the same guy whose request he turned down.
Huh? When this mixed message was pointed out to the mayor, he reiterated there will be no new police officers hired for 2019. When it was then pointed out to McCallum that he’d just said the decision was up to the assistant commissioner, he agreed, adding it’s up to Surrey’s top cop to make a recommendation – one, we might add, made by a seasoned professional not an amateur – and then it’s up to council to decide.
During the election campaign McCallum came out swinging on major issues, and some might argue refreshingly so. But lately he appears to be boxing himself into a corner by uttering mixed messages.
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW
Reporter: Can you also respond to Mr. Hundial saying he doubts the municipal police force will be formed in two years? He doubts that. He doesn’t think that’s possible.
McCallum: Yes, very much so. In discussions with Terry and with council, the indications are that we are moving very quickly. As you know we are working with the City of Vancouver to help us go forward and by doing that we have speeded up the process. And so, I think, or at least the majority of council feels very comfortable, that we’ll be within that two-year period. And, at least at this stage, I feel even quicker than that right now because we’re going to work with an experienced police force to help us out moving forward, especially on the report we have to do through the provincial government. We also, I can say, from the province level, we’re getting a lot warmer reception and are working well together and so I think the process, actually is going to be speeded up and could even be better than two years. They’re co-operating a lot more, they’re meeting with us on a regular basis and they’re working with us so we can get the proper procedures in to be able to do the report.
Reporter: If the safety situation gets worse next year, will you hesitate to add more officers in the second year?
McCallum: As I mentioned earlier,I meet with the Officer in Charge roughly every two weeks, I just met with him this morning. He’s keeping me up to date as far as the policing situation in Surrey. It’s very, very important that we work with the RCMP. The reason that we’re changing police forces is more on a governance model. The police have worked very well for Surrey for many years in Surrey, 50 years or so, but the governance has broken down and that’s what breaks down in big cities in policing. People in Surrey want to be able to have a police board that’s made up of citizens of Surrey so we want our management of our police to rest in Surrey, not Ottawa.
Reporter: So it doesn’t sound like, even if things get worse, you won’t be adding more police officer next year.
McCallum: “That’s up to the Officer in Charge of policing. It would be the same if we had our own police force, it’s the police chief, or in our case the Officer in Charge, that’s his or her decision.
Reporters: But isn’t he asking for more right now? He’s told me he needs a significant number of additional officers. That’s what he’s told us.
McCallum: We’ve said in this budget, we’re going forward with no new additions in the next 12 months. He’s also said he feels comfortable he’ll be able to keep Surrey safe with his current compliment of officer.
Reporter: But you said it’s up to him if he wants more officers. He does. It’s up to council, is it not, to decide that, not up to him?
McCallum: No, it’s always up to the Officer in Charge or the police chief, to make a recommendation. Then it’s up to council to decide if we need the officers. It’s the same for the police board. With the RCMP, actually, when they ask for more officers, it usually takes them about a year to get them into Surrey so we’re not dealing with a situation in the next 12 months, for instance.
Reporter: So you’re saying Dwayne McDonald hasn’t asked for more officers, is that what you’re saying?
McCallum: As far as the budget, we work with the budget, we’ve had a number of finance meetings with senior staff, including him. By working with him, then council determines the status of each department, working with that. So all of our managers ask for requests and so forth. It’s up to council to decide what’s best for the city as far as taking in the whole picture in Surrey not just one particular department. We need to always do budgets based on looking at all aspects of the city.
Reporter: So if Dwayne McDonald came to you after next year and said this past year, it hasn’t been working, I insist we need more officers, will you adhere to that?
McCallum: We’ll consider that, when we do the budget for next year. That’s the process every city follows.