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'A real shame for the city': Chaos erupts as Surrey council passes contentious budget without debate

Last Updated Dec 17, 2019 at 5:31 am PDT

(Tarnjit Parmar, NEWS 1130 photo)
Summary

The budget functioned as a flashpoint for conflict in the city and on council, largely centering around policing

It puts a hiring freeze on Mounties and firefighters, and earmarks $129 million for a new police force

The budget passed but the four councillors who opposed it condemned the meeting as undemocratic

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — At a meeting attended by a raucous crowd that saw Surrey’s mayor and his allies walk out of council chambers, a contentious budget was passed without debate or discussion Monday.

The budget functioned as a flashpoint for conflict in the city and on council, largely centering around Surrey’s transition to a municipal police force. It puts a hiring freeze on Mounties and firefighters, and earmarks $129-million for a new force, which will replace the RCMP.

After the meeting, the four councillors who voted against it condemned the evening’s events as undemocratic.

Coun. Brenda Locke said members of council and their constituents were denied the opportunity to speak.

“There was no opportunity for input on any of those budget issues so that was very disappointing,” she said. “It was very difficult for us to sit there and not a very good sign for democracy in the city of Surrey today. It’s a real shame for the city.”

Locke said she does not understand why the mayor and members of his Safe Surrey Coalition left chambers when the crowd erupted.

“I don’t know what they were afraid of. People just had to settle down a little bit and we could have conducted the business of the city but they chose to leave,” she added.

Coun. Linda Annis said when the mayor returned and announced no speakers would be heard, he effectively shut down any dissenting voices.

“Any of the councillors who were not in agreement with the mayor were basically not allowed to speak. It was very unfortunate because a lot of people came out to see what we had to say and to say what they had to say. And we were denied that in the process which was truly tragic and not a good representation of the way we serve the people. I think we all have to remember that the residents are the ones who elected us and they have every right to hear what we have to say.”

After the meeting, McCallum reiterated he made the decision to leave chambers for safety reasons, and urged people to focus on the result.

“In the end result, council passed the five-year budget 5-4. So, we’re going to carry on now with the budget and run the city on that budget,” the mayor said.

The promise to replace the RCMP was central to McCallum’s campaign during the municipal election, and was supported by members of the Safe Surrey Coalition, who have a majority on council.

The vote in favour of the budget was met with strong reaction in the packed chamber, as some yelled in disappointment, while others cheered and applauded.

There were also chants of “resign” from the crowd.

Former City Councillor Mike Starchuk decried the scene on Tuesday night as a zoo. He placed blame with the mayor, and his lack of transparency.

“As I stand in the back of what’s taking place there, everybody’s saying the same thing. There’s arguments that are taking place between really intelligent people, but it’s like a belief rather than a fact.”

However, not everyone was opposed to the controversial budget, and what it meant for the future of policing in Surrey.

“We are seeing in Vancouver, there was a loss of gang violence there, and Vancouver police controlled it,” Gurpreet Singh Sahota of Wake Up Surrey said. “We saw it.”

Rallies descend upon City Hall

It all started outside the chamber, as duelling rallies descended on Surrey City Hall before the vote.

Seniors and business advocates expressed concern over what the police transition would mean for public safety in the city, and decried a lack of consultation on the budget council was then-about to pass.

“Do you want business taxes to increase in Surrey?” the Surrey Board of Trade’s Anita Huberman asked a packed crowed, which replied with a loud “No.”

“We, as a business community, are going to be facing 5.5 per cent of an increase in taxes,” she said shortly after. “We were not consulted, the business community is already facing increased taxes from different levels of government.”