Reaction to news that the provincial government has given Surrey’s proposed municipal police force the green light came in fast and furiously.
Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts told the Now-Leader that she believes more should have been done to consult with the general public about the policing change.
“The process to date has been behind closed doors and there’s been exclusion of some city councillors,” she said Thursday. “The public consultation piece was an absolute sham, and the cost analysis was never completely done, so the taxpayers never knew how much they’re on the hook for.
Watts said a “critical analysis of the all the issues” hasn’t been done.
“What are you trying to fix, how much is it going to cost, a proper public consultation, and I think there should have been a referendum, because this is a big change,” she said. “The general public needed to know, and still needs to know, how much it’s going to cost and how much they’ll be on the hook for, because it’s not going to be free. We know that, it just will, as much as the mayor says it won’t. The general public still needs to be given a full understanding of the impact of this.”
Councillor Brenda Locke – who split from the mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition earlier this year over his so-called “my-way-or-the-highway approach” – said she figured the approval “was bound to happen.”
“Now it gets real. This is where the rubber hits the road,” she told the Now-Leader. “Now, the people who wrote the report have to fully disclose what they mean. The public has to know what the numbers are. This will now create that place where they can really talk about what the costs are going to look like to the citizens and residents of Surrey. You can’t tell right now.”
While I do believe #SurreyBC would be better served by its own police force in the long run, the mayor has rushed a poor plan without public consultation. The next council will have to do a lot of work to get this right.
— Adam MacGillivray (@acemacg) August 22, 2019
Locke said Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and the Vancouver Police Department, which helped Surrey develop its transition plan, “are going to have to defend the report they’ve written, because they’ve chosen to be silent until now.”
According to Locke, the “cost implications are going to become very real, very soon.”
Locke also said she hopes the provincial government will “demand meaningful consultation,” saying the consultation that’sgone on thus far “can’t be taken seriously.”
Lone Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis – who had called for a referendum on the transition – issued a statement after Thursday’s announcement saying she is “disappointed that the province hasn’t provided an opportunity for Surrey taxpayers to have their say.”
“I am hopeful the task force that has been set up will drill down into the details of the proposed new police department and will provide some mechanism for Surrey voters and taxpayers to be heard in a serious way, something that has been missing so far,” the statement read, adding Annis has “always been important to me that the citizens of Surrey have their say in any move from the RCMP to a municipal force.”
Councillor Steven Pettigrew, who also split from the mayor’s Safe Surrey Coalition, said in a statement Thursday he is “dismayed in the provincial government’s decision to give the green light to this transition plan.”
Pettigrew argues that many decision have been made – including a hiring freeze on officers and Public Safety Committee being dissolved by the mayor in favour of a task force focusing on the transition – that “make our city less safe.”
“Some people say that I have not kept my promise to transition to a municipal force, but I will not blindly go down a path that I believe will put our citizens and businesses in jeopardy,” Pettigrew’s statement reads. “I have never been opposed to the possibility of having a municipal police force, but I will only support one if it makes the citizens of Surrey safer and I believe that this plan does not do that. I will continue to challenge any decision that I feel will harm the people of Surrey.”
Pettigrew added that he hopes the people of Surrey know “I have their back, and I will do all that is in my power to make this a better city for all of our families and businesses.”
As for those still part of McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition, Councillor Doug Elford said there’s a “sense of relief the decision’s finally been made and we can start moving ahead.
“My main objective is to make Surrey a safe, livable community and this is, I think, one of the first steps,” Elford said.
Councillor Allison Patton said leading up to the approval, there was some concern it might not get the green light.
“Things can change minute to minute, hour to hour, on big changes like this,” she said. “Once I knew it was for real, I was ecstatic.”
As for getting the Surrey Police Department up and running by 2021, Patton said she’s hopeful it the timeline can be achieved “as fast as humanly possible.”
“First of all, we were running as a coalition. It wasn’t expected we would be elected; we were. Then we had some large promises… Yet, not even a year out, we’ve already achieved (two),” Patton said, referring to the policing transition and the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension. “I’m pretty impressed, actually. Because of that track record… I feel very good about our energy, our proactivity, the teamwork we’ve been able to display with other levels of government.”
On the Now-Leader’s Facebook page, several commenters expressed their disapproval.
“Sad day for Surrey,” posted Pat Zanon. “We will have higher taxes and less policing and more crime. Very disappointed in the BCNDP decision. I really thought Farnworth would not give the green light.”
Teddi Timlock Rider wrote “obviously they haven’t looked at what the people have to say.”
“Time for an election,” Tom Demke chimed in.
“Huge mistake,” wrote Glen Ritchie.
Others expressed different points of view.
“Congratulations,” wrote Raj Dhillon Singh. “Very good decision mayor.”
Hugh McDonald wrote “it’s disappointing that he was voted in, but he ran with this on his platform & he won. The importance of voting cannot be understated.”
At council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5, 2018 it served notice to the provincial and federal governments that Surrey is ending its contract with the RCMP – which has policed these parts since May 1, 1951 – to set up its own force. Dr. Terry Waterhouse, who has served as Surrey’s general manager of public safety, was appointed by Mayor Doug McCallum to oversee the process.
-With files from Tom Zillich