Palmer: Who will pay is the key question behind Surrey’s policing spat

Opinion: Mayor says province’s offer of $150 million not enough for ‘very expensive police service’ the province is imposing on Surrey

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VICTORIA — The New Democrats have given Surrey until the end of the week to stop the foot dragging and fully engage with the province on transitioning from the RCMP to a stand-alone municipal police force.

The Oct. 13 deadline was included in last week’s blunt missive from provincial director of police services Glen Lewis, lamenting the “lack of progress “ in the three months since the province ordered the city to continue with the Surrey Police Service.

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“It is my observation that this delay is due in large part to a lack of leadership and engagement by city council and city staff,” wrote Lewis.

“City staff have been only minimally engaged in select aspects of this work to date and are seemingly constrained by a lack of clear direction from the mayor and council to progress the transition to the SPS. … I am further advised that city staff consistently state that they are instructed not to engage meaningfully in any work until city council gives them direction to do so.”

He warned Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and her council that “continued inaction by the city” could put Surrey in breach of its obligations under the Police Act.

“As you know, the city is responsible for providing policing and law enforcement within its municipal boundaries,” wrote the director of police services. “These responsibilities and duties include effecting its police model transition.

“I strongly urge that the city rectify these matters forthwith and assume the leadership required to carry out its transition,” the five-page letter continued. “To this end, I request a report back on the remedy of these items, in writing, from the city by end of business day, Oct. 13, 2023.”

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After the letter was leaked to the news media last week, Lewis’ boss, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth backstopped the director of policing services with some choice words of his own.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. Photo by DARREN STONE /TIMES COLONIST

For starters, he declared that the province will not back off its decision, announced July 19, to reject Surrey’s plan to scrap the SPS and keep the RCMP for policing services.

“That decision is final and will not be reversed,” said Farnworth, adding that Surrey ought to be concerned about how much the delays are adding to the transition costs.

The public safety minister says that a lot of work has been done at the staff level, including through the provincially appointed transition adviser (and former head of the public service), Jessica McDonald.
But he didn’t dispute the main point of the Lewis letter, namely that after almost three months, there were too many delays and Surrey was to blame.

“The real issue now is that the city of Surrey needs to get on with it,” Farnworth told broadcaster Harjinder Thind on radio station CKYE Friday. ”My director of police services has written to the city outlining a number of areas where they have failed, at this point, to act. The more they delay, the more the costs increase and those costs are the direct result of delays by the city.”

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If Mayor Brenda Locke won’t comply, what then? Asked the radio host.

“The mayor has to follow the law, “ replied Farnworth. “My director of police services has powers available to him under the existing Police Act that require the mayor to do that.”

Could the provincial government remove the mayor, if she still won’t go along?

“It’s not about removing the mayor,” said Farnworth. “The director of police service has indicated a number of areas where they have to act.”

Failing that, the province is preparing legislation for introduction this fall to ensure this kind of standoff over policing services “can never happen again.”

The legislation will force Surrey to complete the transition?

“Details of that will be made public when the legislation is introduced,” said Farnworth.

Does the legislation have teeth?

“You’ll have to wait and see the legislation.”

The fall sitting of the legislature resumes next week. Provincial officials have already briefed Surrey city staff on the contents of the proposed changes in the Police Act as they related to policing transition, according to Lewis.

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Even so, Locke sounds more offended than intimidated by the latest gambit from the province.
She denies that the city is the main cause of any delays, instead blaming the province for lacking a transition plan. As for the NDP government’s offer of $150 million in transition funding over five years, Locke says that won’t be enough.

“We don’t have a budget for this very, very expensive police service that they are imposing on the residents, the taxpayers of my city. And I am completely and utterly offended by that,” the Surrey mayor told Gordon Hoekstra of Postmedia.

She vowed to make sure that the Surrey public understands “that this is imposed on them by the province of B.C. — they’re going to wear it.”

“They’re going to wear it. “ With those few words, the mayor captured the essence of this dispute between the province and the city: which of them will pay the political cost for this standoff over policing services.

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