Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum poses with an example of a Surrey Police cruiser after his State of the City Address at Civic Hotel on May 7. (File photo)

Guest column

HARDIE: With so much uncertainty, Surrey needs referendum on policing transition

Decision requires straight goods from mayor and council so residents know costs and trade-offs

A review of the documents posted on the City of Surrey’s web site concerning the proposed transition from the RCMP to a city police service leads one to suspect we don’t have all the information we need as citizens and taxpayers to make a clear decision about the benefits of this change. Given what’s at stake, my personal view is that we need more details, then we need to get our hands directly on the decision.

Mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition were clear about their intention to create a Surrey police service during the municipal election. It was clear, however, that their electoral win was largely due to the split created when Surrey First devolved into two competing blocs.

Many have commented that these dynamics allowed Safe Surrey to win with the support of only 13 per cent of Surrey electors. As I know only too well, that’s how a ‘first past the post’ electoral system works.

It still leads to a reasonable question as to whether the mayor and his coalition has a mandate to undertake such a major change to the very foundation of our community’s safety and security. And if there are questions about the ‘what’ – the creation of a Surrey Police Service – there are even more concerning the “how,” as demonstrated by the dislocation apparent in the city budget.

SEE ALSO: Safe Surrey councillors break silence after biting tongues at heated budget meetings

I don’t think we had a clear picture of the implications of Safe Surrey’s campaign promise and in fact, the picture was still far from clear when council moved to begin the transition with their vote on Nov. 5, 2018. Now, we see in the city’s 2020 budget that our overall level of safety and security services will fall because of the shift of funding to cover the cost of the new force.

If we knew in 2018 what we know now, my guess is that council’s decision then might well have been to launch a more in-depth feasibility study on the transition. If we take all the revelations since then into account, it’s not unreasonable to ask questions of the mayor and those on council who continue to support this decision. No final decision should be taken, nor should major expenditures be undertaken, until Surrey citizens are satisfied that this transition is in our best interests.

The questions I have for them are as follows: Why are we doing this? What problems are we solving by creating a Surrey Police service?

SEE ALSO: ‘A disaster’: Surrey council OKs budget despite deemed ‘risk’ to public safety

The original motion to council and the transition plan made public last June 19 seems to suggest we’re doing it because we can. But do we need to? Could we not achieve the safety, security and efficiency outcomes by continuing to work with the RCMP, remembering that with federal support, we’re currently getting a 10 per cent subsidy on a major portion of our policing costs.

Do we really know what this is going to cost? The 2020 budget provides some dollar figures, but overall “costs” need to consider what things won’t happen because of the funding shift. These were detailed at the public hearings last week in which delegations flagged a reduction of safety and security capabilities plus the loss of other civic improvements. Many concluded we were giving up too much to get too few (if any) improvements.

I don’t know whether a city police force will be better for us than the RCMP. That’s the point.

Like every police force, the RCMP (and indeed a Surrey Police service too) will be challenged to maintain authorized strength and to deploy their resources in a way that satisfies our expectations. Cost creep will be a fact of life either way we go.

Senior governments do not often get involved in purely local matters. But the switch to a city police force has emerged as a big and costly decision. Out of it, we need to get the best policing we can afford; policing that complements rather than diminishes the other civic services that contribute to our community’s quality of life. It’s a decision that requires getting the straight goods from the mayor and council so that we know all the costs and trade-offs.

And we should know them because it is a decision – an informed decision – we all need to make directly either in a referendum or at the next municipal election.

Surrey MP Ken Hardie represents Fleetwood-Port Kells.

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