Politics

Palmer: Surrey brings NDP to table on policing by dragging out issue

With an election months away, NDP fears the political damage and unresolved battle over police force could cause at the ballot box

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VICTORIA — The week began with an update on the standoff over policing services in Surrey, courtesy of the B.C. Conservatives.

“Surrey is now being asked to accept an additional payment of $110 million,” declared Bruce Banman, the party’s house leader during the Monday afternoon question period in the legislature.

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The New Democrats had already pledged $150 million over five years to cover the cost of the transition from the RCMP to the stand-alone Surrey Police Service.

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Did the New Democrats think it was fair to taxpayers to put in another $110 million? Banman asked.

If Banman were right about a new offer, it would mean a major reversal by Premier David Eby.

The premier went on the record last year to dispel speculation that his comment about being willing to “support additional costs” for Surrey meant that the province was prepared to put up more than $150 million to complete the transition.

“There is no more money,” Eby told reporters during a news conference on October 23. “There is no more money. There is $150 million on the table Surrey hasn’t taken us up on. There is no more money.”

That’s three denials in one.

Still, when Banman speculated Monday about the province making an enriched offer to Surrey, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth sidestepped.

The provincial government-ordered transition from the RCMP to the Surrey Police Service “continues to go ahead,” said Farnworth. “And my staff work with the city of Surrey, the federal RCMP and the Surrey RCMP to make sure that that will continue and that that is going to happen.”

The answer did not address the $110 million sweetener, replied Banman in a follow-up question. In responding a second time, Farnworth ducked the question again.

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By then the story was out there, as they say on social media, and questions would dog the New Democrats for the rest of the week.

Farnworth confined his answers to confirming that the province and Surrey were back at the table, trying to end the standoff. But he wouldn’t provide details.

“Hopefully we are identifying a way to move forward,” was typical of the answers he gave on Tuesday and Wednesday. “That is our goal, to make sure that the people of Surrey have a police force, have certainty, and we can all focus on the big challenges that that city faces of mass growth and huge demands.”

On Thursday, the premier said talks with Surrey were “about how do we address the issue of implementing the Surrey police and move on.

“I look forward to having more to share about those discussions. Right now, the city of Surrey is considering their next steps. I’m very hopeful that we are going to move past this.”

He denied that the province was offering an additional $110 million to move things along.

“I’ve heard the $110 million figure reported as well,” he told reporters. “That is not correct.”

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He declined to say how much new money was on the table, letting speculation roam free.

What would be the rationale for adding any money above and beyond the premier’s thrice-validated final offer of $150 million?

“The people of Surrey are sick and tired of the back-and-forth about policing in their community,” said Eby.

The public was fed up.

So the public was to blame.

Not the NDP’s fault for interfering in the decision between the council and the electorate, for botching every round of the negotiations, and for repeatedly claiming the transition was a done deal when clearly it was not.

While the New Democrats ducked and dodged questions about what was on the table, Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke confirmed that the city was looking at what she described as a partial offer from the province.

“However, she warns that it will be the city council that decides whether the final price is good enough,” according to Global B.C.

Translation: The mayor is still driving a hard bargain. No wonder the New Democrats don’t want to say how much new money is on the table in their latest offer.

Say what you like about Brenda Locke. The New Democrats surely have. They’ve been mocking her, and her supposed lack of a mandate, for months.

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Though the NDP has exercised their provincial power to impose the Surrey Police Force, she’s outplayed them on the issue of costs and who pays. She’s also prolonged the issue into a provincial election year.

The New Democrats must be fearing that Locke will pass along any unfunded costs to Surrey taxpayers along with a notice blaming it on the province — and by extension, Surrey’s seven incumbent NDP MLAs.

Hence the embarrassing spectacle of the province doubling down on its “final” offer to try to buy peace in a key battleground in an election year.

Langley Township Mayor Eric Woodward put it well Friday during an interview with Mike Smyth on CKNW.

If the latest estimates are roughly correct, the New Democrats are offering the Surrey mayor and her council majority a quarter of a billion dollars or so, “to take something they don’t want.”

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