Surrey city Councillor Steven Pettigrew has parted ways with the Safe Surrey Coalition to sit as an Independent.
“It comes down to the trees. We’ve lost another 5,000 trees, unprotected trees,” he told the Now-Leader. “I don’t want to be associated with a political party that has that little regard for the environment.”
While that was the final straw, he said, he’s been struggling with the Safe Surrey Coalition-dominated council for “four or five months” now.
“I just tried to ride out the storm, but I just, enough is enough.”
“I’m not mad at them, and I’m not even mad at the mayor,” he said. “Everybody has a right to vote the way they want and as we go forward I’ll just continue to work with them. Sometimes I’ll agree, most of the time I stand by myself.”
“What’s the worst that can happen? I stand by myself. It’s already happened, right,” he said. “You’ve seen council right, it’s usually eight to one, vote after vote after vote after vote.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum had these parting words for Pettigrew, contained in a statement provided to the Now-Leader by city staff.
“I am not surprised by Steven’s decision to split from the Safe Surrey Coalition,” McCallum stated. “What I find disappointing is his treatment of the voters who cast a ballot for him as a member of the Safe Surrey Coalition. We were very open, transparent and specific of what we stood for and intended to do if elected. Steven was fully aware of Safe Surrey’s platform and was more than happy to run an entire campaign with us. Since he’s been elected to council, he has conveniently forgotten the platform and the promises we made to the people of Surrey.”
Pettigrew entered public life primarily through his struggle to save North Surrey’s Hawthorne Park, albeit it unsuccessfully, from the city’s plan to run a road through it.
The city’s plan to transition from the RCMP to a made-in-Surrey police force, a concept which he voted for, has also “factored into it,” he said.
“I’ve been very vocal on council and in the public where I’ve been speaking, that I want, and I wanted, council to be involved in the transition process, and we weren’t. And I also wanted the public to be involved in the transition process, and they weren’t.”
“That’s definitely been a huge concern, all the way down.”
As for the environment, Pettigrew said, “people need to realize what’s happened in the climate, really how quickly it’s coming upon us. I know – I’m a director at Metro, and I have access to information. Staff is concerned at Metro, staff is concerned at the city, worldwide people are realizing that we’re in a crisis situation and cutting down all these trees just makes it worse.”
“It’s really, really serious.”
Councillor Brenda Locke told the Now-Leader she “knew that Steven had concerns, but no I didn’t know it was coming today.”
Locke – who has been vocal about the policing issue and the lack of public involvement in developing the transition plan – said she is not considering breaking from the coalition.
“And we’re all independent on council, that’s what council is supposed to be, but I respect Steven’s decision for leaving.”
She stressed she’s “not thinking about” doing the same.
Councillor Allison Patton said she doesn’t expect it will change much on council.
“I’m not sure that it will change too much, I don’t think so,” she said. “Sometimes you have to rip off the Bandaid but other times you need to have patience, right. For me, I’m more of a patience person but not everybody is.”
Pettigrew’s separation from the Safe Surrey Coalition means Surrey council now has an Independent councillor, a Surrey First councillor (Linda Annis), six Safe Surrey councillors and a Safe Surrey mayor.
Meantime, Pettigrew said he doesn’t see “huge changes” as a result of this.
“I’ll just going to continue doing what I’m doing.”
During the civic election campaign last year, the Safe Surrey Coalition ran on the “pillars” of abandoning light rail in favour of expanding SkyTrain, smart development and replacing the RCMP.
Now that he’s parted ways with the coalition, where does Pettigrew now land on these issues?
“It’s all out of my hands now. The transition, we really had nothing to do with it anyways. It’s always been out of my hands. It’s gone on to the Province, so it’s done, it’s finished.” As far as the SkyTrain expansion, he said, “same thing there, that’s out of our hands. The people that are involved in SkyTrain are the Mayors’ Council. They’re the ones that direct things. They get a little bit of input here and there from the public and stuff, but it’s been driven by the Mayors’ Council and that’s out of our hands.
“Smart development, we had a good meeting with staff, staff’s been given directions, they’re putting stuff together, so I’ve met my obligations,” Pettigrew said. “I believe I’ve met my obligations to the people and the party and I’ve done what I was supposed to have done.”
“I have to do what I feel is right in my heart, and what I hear from the public,” he said. “I’m not trying to slam – I’m looking forward to working with council and don’t hold them any ill will but I just need to disassociate myself with the party. That’s the important thing is that their actions are reflecting upon me, and that’s not what I believe in.”
“I have very strong concerns about the environment, and what they’re doing.”
– With a file by Amy Reid