Vaughn Palmer: Clark pledges to curb Surrey violence, but no new resources

Not often does Premier Christy Clark admit the New Democrats have got it right on an issue.

B.C. Public Safety minister Mike Morris admitted when asked if there were any new money for Surrey in Friday's announcement: “Not today.”

Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun

VICTORIA — Not often does Premier Christy Clark admit the New Democrats have got it right on an issue. Even rarer for her to concede a point to the Opposition during question period in the legislature.

Still, it happened this week during an exchange over the latest spate of shootings in drug-gang ridden Surrey.

On her feet, challenging the B.C. Liberals for not doing enough to protect the community, was Sue Hammell, the veteran New Democratic Party MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers.

“Another day, another shooting,” she began Wednesday. “Last night gunshots rang out again, the fourth time in four days.”

It was also the third day in a row that Hammell and her New Democratic Party colleagues from Surrey had turned the spotlight on Solicitor General Mike Morris, the Prince George MLA and former RCMP superintendent that the premier put in charge of the policing file just last December.

In response, Morris had insisted the police were already on the case with ample resources including surveillance teams. At one point he even assured the house that if any drug gang member were to look over his shoulder, “they’re going to see a police officer.”

Hammell couldn’t resist that opening: “Where were those surveillance teams that were looking over the shoulders of the gangsters last night when Surrey marked its 32nd shooting so far this year?”

She put the question to Morris but instead the premier, attending the house for the first time since it resumed after spring break, inserted herself into the government speaking lineup.

“Although that question was not addressed to me, I want to make sure I get a chance to address it, because for the people of Surrey, this is an issue of vital importance,” said Clark.

Granted, in her view, the Liberals had already dedicated significant resources to fight the proliferation of guns and gangs.

“But we need to do more,” the premier conceded. “And so today I want to say to the people of Surrey we are going to do more. We will have their backs, and we will make sure that the families of Surrey know that when they send their children home at night, they will get home safely.”

Having captured the attention of the premier, Hammell pitched a supplemental: “If what you are doing clearly isn’t working what effective action are you going to take to keep the public in my community safe?”

Minutes earlier, Clark had been scrapping with NDP leader John Horgan and dismissing his concerns about campaign financing. But with the Liberals holding five seats in Surrey, three represented by cabinet ministers, the premier was concerned public safety could be a vote-determining issue in the next election. So her answer to Hammell was a study in caution.

“The member is right,” Clark replied. “The people of Surrey deserve to know that their community is just as safe as anywhere else in the province. “

She paused to repeat the numbers her solicitor general had cited earlier in the week. “As of Feb. 1, 25 people have been arrested, 176 charges have been advanced, and $4.5 million in drugs have been seized. At the end of 2015, 6,200 people had been checked, 800 arrests had been made, more than 170 weapons and firearms had been seized.”

But amid the week’s repeated eruptions of gunfire, she recognized statistics alone were not going to reassure the public.

“We do need to do more,” she repeated, echoing Hammell. “We are going to work with the men and women of law enforcement, in Surrey in particular, who put their lives on the line every single day to make sure that the people of Surrey can have the same feeling of security that people have living in any other part of British Columbia.”

Time ran out on question period at that point, but next morning the Opposition was back at it, keeping pressure on the government. “The premier said more needs to be done,” said Bruce Ralston, NDP MLA for Surrey-Whalley. “My question is to the solicitor general. What exactly has the premier instructed him to do?”

The boss having elevated the issue to one of heightened political concern, Morris proceeded to suggest something big was in the works on the crime-fighting front in Surrey.

“I can’t divulge the extent of the investigation that’s going on, the covert and overt activities, because it will jeopardize the lives and safety of not only the officers but other people around those types of investigations,” he hinted.

But if NDP MLAs could drop by his office at the legislature, he’d give them a confidential in-depth briefing “to make them fully understand exactly what’s going on out there.”

Then came Friday’s joint press conference by Surrey, the RCMP and the province on the theme of “stopping gun violence in Surrey,” as the headline on the news release put it.

“We’re going to put this to bed,” declared Morris during a live interview on Global TV’s BC 1. “We’re going to put these guys in jail.”

But on closer examination, the plan mainly seemed to involve redeployment of existing resources with the promise of more to come in the future. For as the minister himself admitted when Global’s Jordan Armstrong asked if there were any new money for Surrey in the announcement: “Not today.”

So for all the premier’s reassurances, her pledge to curb gun violence in Surrey is at best a work in progress.

vpalmer@vancouversun.com

Click here to read more stories from the Vancouver Sun.

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