It’s long past time to break the logjam over policing in Surrey, as the meter keeps ticking while two separate police forces are in place and making plans for the future.
Mayor Brenda Locke does not seem to be budging from her position that the RCMP should remain in place. This is despite offers of a significant amount of transition funding from the province, if the city agrees to continue the transition to the Surrey Police Service.
Sol. Gen. Mike Farnworth is frustrated, as the province feels its offer of up to $150 million makes the transition more possible. Farnworth’s ministry did a review of the costs and operational plans of both Surrey RCMP and SPS, and also looked at the staffing challenges the RCMP are facing across B.C.
That led to the conclusion that the decision was up to city council, but that Surrey could only retain the RCMP under certain conditions.
Among those conditions were no transfer of RCMP officers from other parts of B.C. to Surrey. This is based on the challenges in recruiting new RCMP officers and funding the province has already committed to boost RCMP strength in smaller B.C. communities.
The stalemate means Surrey taxpayers will continue to pay for two police forces and no financial assistance will come from the province. Taxes in Surrey are already going up by 12.5 per cent this year, as shocked taxpayers will see for themselves when the tax bills soon arrive.
This column has long argued that the decision on policing should be in the hands of voters, not politicians. Such a referendum should have taken place in 2019, not long after council made the decision to change police forces. It should have been held soon after audited figures about the costs of each police organization were made available to the public.
It did not happen – but maybe a referendum now would break the logjam.
This would be especially true if the province agreed to pay for it.
Voters now have some actual numbers to compare, thanks to the work done by Farnworth’s ministry.
While paying for a referendum may seem like a bridge too far for the provincial government, it could put enough pressure on local politicians to turn the decision over to voters (especially if city taxes are not involved).
There is an important precedent. In 1950, Surrey voters decided to end the Surrey Police and go to the RCMP. The decision wasn’t a landslide, with 2,973 votes in favour and 2,330 opposed.The community was split, as it is today.
However, politicians recognized that the majority of voters favoured it, and the RCMP began its work in Surrey in 1951.
A final decision on which police force will be in charge in Surrey is needed. A provincial offer to put forward a modest amount to fund a referendum could convince council to put the issue to the people. Whatever decision is made in such a referendum will most certainly be accepted by the public.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.