Solicitor General Mike Farnworth’s decision July 19 to order the transition to Surrey Police Service probably brings this lengthy saga close to a conclusion.
However, a lot of damage has been done over the last five years. Most of it can be laid at the feet of provincial and municipal politicians. Despite Farnworth’s claim at his press conference last week that his decision was based solely on public safety, this decision is infused with politics.
Taxpayers have had no say in which police service they would prefer. Nor have they had a chance to take a detailed look at the actual costs. Their apparent role, based on the actions of Farnworth and current and former mayors Brenda Locke and Doug McCallum, is to shut up and keep paying more taxes than necessary to keep two police forces going.
Some argue that the 2018 and 2022 elections gave Surrey residents a chance to weigh in on the issue. That is only partially accurate. In the 2018 election, McCallum won election on a split vote, running against two incumbent councillors who had both been part of Surrey First. The main issue was bringing SkyTrain to Surrey, instead of a ground-based LRT system. Policing was an issue, but it was secondary to most voters.
In 2022, Locke won with less than 30 per cent of the vote and McCallum wasn’t all that far behind. Policing was definitely the most important issue. There were five serious candidates for mayor and their positions on policing were all over the map.
The message from voters was likely “We don’t know what to think.” Little factual information on the costs of the two police forces was provided to voters.
The reality is that Surrey Police Service has to hire hundreds of officers in order to take over policing in Surrey. Every one of them will make more than an equivalent Surrey RCMP officer. Surrey taxpayers will make up the difference, other than the $150 million promised by the province to help pay for the transition.
Farnworth said Surrey RCMP could not take officers from any other RCMP detachment in B.C., but said nothing about where the SPS officers will come from. How many will come from other municipal police forces in B.C., or from the Surrey RCMP itself?
Farnworth seemed very upset that he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to read the Surrey staff report on policing. Of course, members of Surrey council had to sign one to read the province’s report. He wants to end that practice (at least for provincial politicians).
Does that show concern for the taxpayers who actually pay for all these decisions, reports, and political bluster? Where is the accurate information for them to digest? It’s unavailable or redacted. The provincial cabinet and Surrey council don’t seem to care a whit. It’s all about them.
We have been poorly-served by both levels of government. Voters should take this into consideration when the next provincial election rolls around in 2024, but will likely have forgotten by then, given all the ongoing serious problems facing Surrey in housing, education, health care and transportation.
It’s too bad those we elect to lead us can’t seem to do the job they are elected to do.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.