SURREY (NEWS 1130) — A municipal policing controversy has exploded into a provincial dogfight as the BC Liberal Party promises to interfere in Surrey’s policing transition that is already underway.
The BC Liberals’ promise to pause a transition from RCMP to a municipal force in Surrey is also getting mixed reactions from residents and academics.
Responding to the latest campaign move by the Liberals, NDP candidate Mike Farnworth says Andrew Wilkinson and the party are “flip-flopping” and calls the move a “desperate act.”
“This is 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,” says Farnworth in a press release from the NDP.
The Liberal party quietly announced its plan to hold a referendum to decide the future of policing on Sunday, shortly after releasing details about its plan to support seniors.
The party appears not to have tweeted or otherwise shared the associated press release on social media and has also not posted the announcement to its website.
Surrey Coun. Linda Annis has criticized Mayor Doug McCallum’s lack of transparency about the costs and transition plan over the last two years and is throwing her support behind the plan to reopen the issue.
Surrey voters & residents should have the final say on who polices our City. Now BC Liberals agree to a referendum to end this divisive issue once & for all. We need a vote to we have our say. Referendum with all the facts, full transparency. @bcliberals
— Linda Annis (@LindaAnnisBC) October 4, 2020
In the 2018 election, political scientists gave the NDP credit for garnering votes in important ridings south of the Fraser River when the party promised to scrap bridge tolls.
The latest promise from the Liberals could help the party steal back some of those essential votes if the NDP can’t come up with a strategy to retain them.
Surrey’s nine provincial ridings include Fleetwood, Guilford and Panorama, which are considered potential swing ridings.
Peace Arch News reporter, Aaron Hinks says the positive reaction from residents has been widespread and immediate.
Letters/notes keep coming in from Surrey residents that are thrilled about BC Liberal announcement on Surrey Police.
I've never seen this kind of instant reaction to an election promise before. This may have huge impact on results in Surrey.
— Aaron Hinks (@aaron_hinks) October 4, 2020
One resident says it’s not quite enough to take her vote away from the NDP, but it’s close.
“That announcement almost makes this left-leaning Surrey-ite consider BC Liberal. Will have an effect on actual swing votes, for sure,” tweets Andrea Kennedy, an Indigenous law expert and resource engineering consultant.
Meanwhile, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum says the transition is a “done deal” and accuses Wilkinson of “playing politics with the public safety of our residents.”
“I am appalled that the BC Liberal Leader has stooped to this level of desperation in an effort to garner votes. Surrey City Council acted in accordance with the law when we unanimously voted to transition to a municipal police service,” McCallum says in a statement.
He echoes sentiments from Simon Fraser University political scientist Stewart Prest who has pointed out the interference has serious implications for other municipal governments when it comes to autonomy and decision making.
“This is another risk for the Liberal pledge, as a referendum would clearly elbow out an established decision process. The police question was a major issue in the last election, one that Mayor McCallum campaigned hard on en route to a decisive victory,” tweets Prest.
His analysis is that the Liberals may be promising a referendum to avoid having to take a real stance on the issue of policing in Surrey which could help them gain votes without alienating others.
Despite criticism, Wilkinson insisted a referendum on the new police force needs to happen when he was speaking Monday.
“Since this election was called, we’ve been knocking on doors all over Surrey and the uniformed response from people is they’re worried about their economic future because Surrey is a small business community,” he said. “They’re very worried about the cost of the new police force and they have no idea what it’s going to cost them.”
He says it’s time to clarify the cost and let Surrey residents decide how they feel.
Wilkinson says if his party wins the election, a referendum will be held in the first half of next year.
Meanwhile, many are pointing to a recent poll that showed 58 per cent of 400 Surrey residents polled are against scrapping the RCMP, with 44 per cent identifying as “strongly opposed.”
The controversy continues even as the new Surrey Police Board has been formed and has begun holding meetings.
-With files from Martin MacMahon