Frank Bucholtz

COLUMN: Kudos to Surrey MLAs who responded to policing transition questions

Transparency from outset could have prevented ongoing controversy

The unwillingness of Surrey’s NDP MLAs to accept the results of a campaign for a referendum on Surrey’s policing transition is likely the final blow against public participation in a very key decision.

Peace Arch News’ sister paper, The Now-Leader was able to canvass five of the seven NDP MLAs who represent Surrey ridings, and their comments were illuminating. Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Mike Starchuk and Surrey-Guildford MLA Garry Begg, a former Surrey RCMP officer, did not make themselves available.

At the root of their unwillingness to push for a referendum, even though enough people signed in each of the Surrey ridings to meet the standards called for under the Recall and Initiative Act, is the devolution of the Canadian parliamentary system to one of blind obedience to party.

The act calls for 10 per cent of voters in each of B.C.’s 87 ridings to trigger an automatic referendum. The organizers of the Surrey campaign knew that it would be very difficult to get signatures in areas outside Surrey and chose to focus on getting enough signatures in each Surrey riding. They have said the government has the ability to call a regional referendum under the act.

The fact that they were able to get 42,942 signatures in total (compared to Mayor Doug McCallum’s 2018 election with 45,564 votes) is certainly an indication that a significant number of people believe the matter deserves to go to a vote.

Kudos to the five MLAs who did comment on the matter. It is almost certain that they have many other issues they would rather talk about.

The MLAs who made remarks said they were reluctant to interfere in a local decision, which parrots what Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has said all along.

He made the decision to give the transition the go-ahead, and they are backing him to the hilt. They correctly pointed out that the initial council decision to move towards a city police force was made unanimously (at council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 5, 2018).

There were some interesting comments from MLAs. Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims said the issue is more one of “governance” rather than politics, and she is reluctant to turn decision-making over to citizens on a case-by-case basis.

At the same time, she said that many people are concerned about the process – exactly the point those in the referendum campaign were making.

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh said she will bring up concerns from Surrey residents with Farnworth, the minister responsible. Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar said, “I’m not in the cabinet.”

Energy Minister Bruce Ralston, Surrey-Whalley MLA and a former Surrey councillor, said he would not bring the matter up in cabinet and also said the transition is not a matter for a referendum.

Labour Minister and Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains said the city has the right to change policing systems, but citizen concerns about transparency and cost related to the transition “are all legit questions, and I think the citizens of Surrey deserve answers on those and I think they should be asking those questions of the city and the city council should be giving those answers.”

Had the city done as he suggests from Day 1, chances are this transition would never have been controversial.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for the Peace Arch News and at Email

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