Politics

Vaughn Palmer: Final offer on Surrey policing? Yah, right

Opinion: Right about now, many New Democrats are probably wishing they’d let Surrey revert to the RCMP

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VICTORIA — When the New Democrats were accused of offering Surrey another $110 million to end the standoff over policing services, Premier David Eby delivered a carefully phrased denial.

“I’ve heard the $110 million figure reported,” he told reporters last month, referring to a number touted by the B.C. Conservatives. “That is not correct.”

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Yet Eby refused to provide the dollar amount that the New Democrats had put on the table in renewed talks to cover the cost of transition from the RCMP to the stand alone Surrey Police Service.

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Now we know why he hedged.

For in announcing that the negotiations had failed this week, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth confirmed that the New Democrats had added $100 million to the $150 million in transition funding they put on the table last year.

While not quite as great as the amount bantered about by Conservative MLA Bruce Banman, the increase was shocking nevertheless.

The $150 million was supposedly the province’s final offer. Eby himself said so during a news conference last October 23.

“There is no more money,” he said. “There is no more money. There is $150 million on the table. There is no more money.”

Three times in the space of four sentences. Denials don’t come more emphatic than that.

Yet this year the New Democrats tabled a 67 per cent increase in Eby’s supposedly final offer. That’s rather more than a sweetener.

Nevertheless, Surrey turned down the $250 million offer in favour of proceeding with its court challenge to the NDP-ordered transition to the SPS.

The government’s latest embarrassment at the bargaining table gave Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon his best line of the week.

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“This government has got to be the worst negotiators I have ever seen in my life,” Falcon told reporters Thursday.

“I would love to have the NDP sitting across the table. There was the premier three times saying $150 million is all you get. And what do we see now? The NDP comes back to the table saying well, would another 100 million maybe stop you from suing us?”

While Farnworth insisted that it was Surrey’s idea to resume negotiations, his comments left no doubt about why the province wanted to bring closure to the dispute.

“We put solutions on the table to prevent police-related tax increases,” he said. “This agreement would have given people certainty that there would be no reason for a police-related tax increase for at least a decade.”

No reason for police-related tax increases?

Farnworth and the New Democrats feared that in this provincial election year — with seven NDP-held seats at stake in Surrey — the city would send out a tax notice that blamed the province for imposing the more-expensive municipal force.

Which is pretty much what Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke had in mind.

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Surrey has already announced a six per cent increase in property taxes for the year, pointedly saying that it did not cover the added cost of the provincially imposed SPS over the city’s preference for the RCMP.

“But if the SPS is imposed on the city, I will do a budget update in the fall so that the public know what to expect for next year’s property tax increase,” Locke told Jas Johal during an interview on CKNW Tuesday.

“And make no mistake, it will be significant. My guess in somewhere around 12 per cent.”

She’ll be announcing a 12 per cent tax increase to cover the cost of the policing transition “come the fall.” As in the midst of the fall provincial election campaign? asked Johal.

“If we have this imposed, I will do a fall update,” Locke confirmed. “It’s only proper and fair. The public needs to know, so we’ll absolutely make sure that our residents know the cost changes or the implications of that decision.”

No wonder the New Democrats went back to the table with more money.

They say that their latest offer really was the final offer, by the way.

Try not to laugh.

The province’s offer was “not even close” to what it would take to cover the cost of transition, says Locke, still bargaining. She estimates the all-in transition cost at roughly double the $250 million in the province put on the table.

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The mayor and her council majority are still hoping that they can reverse the province’s decision and keep the RCMP through the court challenge, set to go ahead April 29.

Farnworth insists that is not in the cards. The province is confident of winning the case. Even if it doesn’t, he insists it would still leave the final decision on policing services up to the province.

He sounds very sure of himself. But one is reminded of all the times in the past that he and the New Democrats maintained they had created the conditions to end the stand off.

They’ve failed repeatedly to bring closure.

Some New Democrats must be wondering if their government would be in a worse spot politically, had it allowed Mayor Locke and her council to go back to the RCMP and take the consequences.

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