A PAUSE ON TRANSITION?
Liberals pledge referendum
The B.C. Liberal party decision to test the appetite of Surrey voters for a municipal police force could lead to gains in crucial ridings, says an SFU academic.
On Sunday, the Liberals released an unattributed statement that if elected they would pause the controversial RCMP to municipal police force transition that is already underway and hold a referendum.
The transition was a centrepiece of Mayor Doug McCallum's 2017 election platform and was eventually approved by the provincial government. The Surrey Police Board has been formed, but a chief has not been hired.
SFU criminology professor Robert Gordon said that the transition was already heavily politicized at a municipal level, where McCallum holds the balance of power.
Provincially, Surrey has nine ridings. Three are held by Liberals and six by the NDP. However, in the coming Oct. 24 election three of those NDP ridings could swing to the Liberals — Fleetwood, Guildford and Panorama.
Gordon said the Liberals could make some headway in Surrey on the transition platform.
“It will be an interesting test of the extent to which this is a major social policy issue, given Surrey has a bunch of constituencies at a provincial level,” Gordon said.
“The (Liberals) will cruise home in some, but there may be some gains made in other areas where people have become irritated by the projected financial consequences of disengaging from the RCMP and firing up a free standing municipal police force.”
Surrey South Liberal candidate and incumbent MLA Stephanie Cadieux said the Surrey police transition was the No. 1 issue in conversations she has had with constituents. Cadieux said that some people wanted to keep the RCMP, while others were concerned about a perceived lack accountability and transparency in the transition process.
B.C. NDP candidate Mike Farnworth — who is running in Port Coquitlam and served as B.C's public safety minister and solicitor general before the election being called — said the Liberal move was disrespectful toward Surrey voters.
“This blatant disrespect is offensive to the city and citizens of Surrey, who are quite capable of managing the affairs of their city, in accordance with their legal authority,” Farnworth stated.
Farnworth called the Liberals' promise a “major violation of the relationship with a municipal level of government and an unwarranted interference in the affairs of the city of Surrey.”
“The law makes it clear that this is a municipal decision. The role of the provincial government is to ensure public safety is maintained and that is what we will continue to do,” he said.
Mayor McCallum also hit back. “I am appalled that the B.C. Liberal leader has stooped to this level of desperation in an effort to garner votes,” McCallum stated.
“For the B.C. Liberals to interfere in the unanimous decision of an elected city council should be a concern to all municipal governments in our province.”
McCallum said the transition from RCMP to a municipal police force was a “done deal.” Surrey's contract with the RCMP expires on March 31, 2021, after which the 805-officer municipal force is expected to be operational.
The force's estimated operating budget would be $192.5 million, up 10.9 per cent from Surrey's projected annual policing cost for the RCMP. This does not include onetime capital and transition costs.