Surrey city councillor and former BC Liberal MLA Brenda Locke isn’t taking sides in the provincial election, but she wants whatever party that comes to power to take action against her own city council’s formation of a new police board.
“The whole process should be paused,” said Locke, citing reasons such as pending reform of the Police Act, costs to citizens, a lack of transparency and the potential of having Lower Mainland police forces face officer shortages as the Surrey Police Department “poaches” from its neighbours — resulting in a risk to public safety, thus jeopardizing the Solicitor General’s primary mandate.
And, Locke added, the province should force a referendum, which Mayor Doug McCallum and his majority slate on council have declined to do.
But neither BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson or NDP leader John Horgan took such a stance on the matter on the second day of campaigning Wednesday. Horgan called the issue a “hornet’s nest” created by McCallum. Wilkinson criticized the NDP for “ragging the puck” on the matter and not being transparent.
Still, that the matter was raised on the second day of campaigning, “speaks volumes” to the divisive issue, said Locke.
Provincial government officials “absolutely have authority” to call a referendum, said Locke, who’s call was echoed Thursday by Coun. Linda Annis.
“I’m not asking provincial candidates to come down on one side or another of this issue,” said Annis. “I just want them to say whether they support a referendum where Surrey voters get to decide who will police our community.”
Both say the issue is divisive enough to send citizens to a vote.
BC Liberal candidate for Surrey-Fleetwood Garry Thind said he supports the idea a referendum if it came from council.
NDP candidate for Surrey-Cloverdale Mike Starchuk said a provincial government-enforced referendum would be a “horrible thing,” as it would set a bad precedent for senior government to “stick its fingers in the pot” of a municipality. Furthermore, setting up their own police board is a power enshrined in the Local Government Act.
All parties stated more information on the process needs to be put to the public.
The province has established certain issues that require a local referendum (assent voting), but forming a police force is not one of them.
“Relatively few matters require assent of the electors,” notes the BC Government website. There is, however, guidance given by the province to cities: “If an issue is controversial, requires a significant contribution of taxpayers’ dollars, or is significant in scale or impact on the community, local governments may decide that it is more appropriate and cost-effective to proceed directly to assent voting.”
As such, Locke is asking for discretion on the part of the province, just as it has intervened on municipal policing matters in the past — most recently in Esquimalt (February 2019).
Locke said the transition has been rushed and she is not confident an exodus of Surrey RCMP officers to outside detachments will not lead to an overall shortage of officers in the region.
Starchuk, an unelected city councillor in 2018 who has opposed the manner in which the transition has occurred, said his understanding of the situation is that the province can only oversee the process.
“As far as the process goes, I think they’ve followed the road that’s there to allow them to have a municipal police force,” said Starchuk, adding he isn’t privy to how the province has overseen the process.
To that end, Starchuk speculated there may be room for improvement for his own party.
“There’s some questioning if it’s the case they have the best information available. There seems to be some doubt if it’s read or not read,” said Starchuk.
“It’s more of a philosophical point to ensure what can be done,” said Starchuk.
McCallum is declining to speak to provincial election matters.
Surrey has nine ridings: two held by BC Liberal incumbents Marvin Hunt (Surrey-Cloverdale) and Stephanie Cadieux (Surrey South); one vacated by BC Liberal Tracy Redies (Surrey-White Rock); and six occupied by NDP incumbents.
The BC Liberals do not yet have a candidate in Surrey-Green Timbers. The NDP has no candidates for Surrey South and Surrey-White Rock.
TransCanada public affairs executive Trevor Halford is running fro the BC Liberals in place of Reddies. Other BC Liberal candidates include: Dabe Hans (Surrey-Guildford); Paul Boparai (Surrey-Newton); Gulzar Cheema (Surrey-Panorama); and Shaukat Khan (Surrey-Whalley)