Former Surrey mayors are thunderstruck by the way Surrey’s infamous budget approval meeting played out this past Monday night in an overflowing council chambers, but what can be done about it after the fact?
Mayor Doug McCallum has been taking brickbats for the chaos that erupted there. But it’s not known if he would have done anything differently, in retrospect. He did not return a request for comment by press time.
Dianne Watts, who served as Surrey’s mayor from 2005 to 2014, said Monday’s council meeting was a disgrace.
“I’ve never seen anything like in all the time I’ve been in politics, it’s just so disgraceful,” she told the Now-Leader. She said there must be recourse, “without a doubt.
“I mean, this isn’t a dictatorship. When you look at how the meeting unfolded, I mean it’s an absolute affront on the democratic process, without a doubt. Ignoring councillors calling for points of order, denying councillors to speak, I’m just astonished. It’s just being run as a dictatorship.”
“He just runs roughshod over the whole process,” she said of McCallum, “which is really unfortunate because the whole point of having the process and procedures in place is to allow the citizenry to express their views, to allow elected officials, who are duly elected, to put their views forward or make statements. You can’t just shut them down, and especially on points or order. I’ve never seen the likes of this before.”
Councillor Brenda Locke said she intends to speak with Selina Robinson, provincial minister of municipal affairs, to seek recourse. “Certainly we ‘re not going to just take it.
“I called more than once on a point of order and was denied,” Locke said. “That’s just nothing I’ve ever seen happen before. I have never seen a mayor so dysfunctional in a meeting.”
But Watts doesn’t think the provincial government will step in.
“No. He is duly elected. He has a responsibility to the residents, he has the responsibility to the conduct of the City, which is clearly being violated. People are just frustrated, and so they’re looking for every avenue to make their voices be heard. Under the Municipal Act, which is governed by the Province of British Columbia, certainly they’re not going to jump into this. People would have to go through a court process regarding the violations of procedures.”
Linda Hepner, who served as Surrey’s mayor from 2014 to 2018, said in more than three decade at City Hall as a staffer, councillor and then mayor, she never saw anything like what transpired Monday night.
“I have never seen anyone shut down elected officials from speaking at all,” she said. “In my mind, that is unheard of. Both procedurally, and respectfully, I’ve never seen that before, where he just says there is no opportunity for you to speak, because you are the voice of the people. I have never in all of my years of experience seen them actually hog-tied or bullied, and to suggest they’re not going to be allowed to speak, that is unheard of.”
Hepner told the Now-Leader that she expects under the procedure bylaw there “may be some element they can do in terms of a review with respect to legal repercussions, I don’t know. That would take some analysis.
“The person that you would want to censure, which may be worth exploring, probably doesn’t get a vote and so then it would go on a four-four – I don’t know if it fails on a tie,” Hepner said. “You would censure the chair and then I’m not sure how that would play out, but that’s a possibility of exploration.”
She noted Robert’s Rules of Order, that revered manual of parliamentary procedure, is only a guideline and not enforceable.
Meantime, earlier this month Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman sent a letter to B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and the Policing and Security Branch asking for them “to investigate whether Surrey has an adequate level of policing.”
“He said no,” Huberman said Wednesday. “He said that he won’t be able to intervene. I spoke to him in person, actually.”
She called Monday’s meeting “very concerning.”
“The whole situation that happened on Monday night at the council meeting really damages the City of Surrey’s brand. There is a governance procedure, there is a democratic procedure, and that was compromised on Monday night.”
The big ticket item of Surrey’s 2020 budget is, of course, the transition from the RCMP to a city-made police force.
Gurpreet Singh Sahota, founding organizer of WakeUp Surrey, notes every large city in Canada except Surrey has its own city force.
“We don’t blame the RCMP, we respect them,” he said, but insists the RCMP model is for policing rural and small cities – “not big cities.”
His grassroots group was formed in response to gang violence after a couple of young South Asian men were murdered in South Surrey, but insists the gang violence is not at all exclusive to the South Asian community.
Sahota noted many South Asians live in Delta and New Westminster, Burnaby and Vancouver, for example. “They’re everywhere. So why is there no killings there? Why is it happening only in Surrey?”
He told the Now-Leader that professional-looking lobby signs shouldered at the rally Monday at City Hall, before the budget was approved, were paid for by WakeUp Surrey, a volunteer group of parents. “We are paying everything from our own pockets.”
“We need rec centres here, we need more grounds here, we need more schools here and we need all other facilities everyone likes. But the thing is, if your roof is leaking, then you don’t buy a 56-inch TV, first you repair the roof,” he said, venturing a metaphor. “We’re trying to fix the roof first; next year we’ll bring the TV as well.
“Another thing is, if Doug is not keeping his promises, we will protest against him as well. We are working for parents and kids, not for any political party.”
It has been noted that battle-lines at the dueling protests Monday clearly appeared to be drawn along racial lines, with the pro-city police camp Monday having been thick with South Asians. But Sahota rejects this proposition.
“It’s not like that,” he said. “I have lots of Caucasian friends, Latino friends who are supporting the city police but at the same time I have friends who are South Asian but they are supporting the RCMP.”
As for the rally, he said, the vast majority in his group were South Asian because “I’m personally a South Asian, and my reach is to only South Asians. I’m not like Dianne Watts, or Linda Hepner, or Tom Gill so that the whole city can listen to me. My reach is to only my people, so that’s why when people came, most were South Asian.”
“Most of the people that follow me on the Facebook page are South Asian friends.”
That said, crime is not only a South Asian problem. “We have to understand this is a Surrey problem and we have to solve this all together.”