Which party will listen to Surrey voters?
With a snap B.C. election called for Oct. 24 and Surrey having enough MLAs to determine the outcome, it’s finally time for Surrey to be heard.
Indeed, neither NDP Premier John Horgan nor Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson can afford to ignore Surrey voters any longer.
While some pundits are predicting an NDP rout thanks to Bonnie Henry’s efforts on COVID-19, it’s worth remembering that Henry is not on the ballot, so she has the only safe job in Victoria.
Conversely, other observers believe Horgan’s pandemic election call is so cynical it will cost him dearly, so almost any result is possible.
If history is any guide, this election will probably come down to a few key ridings just as it did in 2017. That year Surrey sent eight MLAs to Victoria, which was more than the margin of victory in an election which gave the BC Liberals both the popular vote and the largest number of seats, but not enough to prevent an NDP-Green Party partnership from toppling them after 16 years in power.
After decades of neglect, one of the most pressing issues in Surrey is transit. On Sept. 3, Horgan announced $1.7 billion of funding to build a new 5.7 km transit line from the Broadway Station to Arbutus Street in Vancouver and that it will be a “high priority” of his government to extend it all the way to UBC. As a UBC alum, I welcome that, but when will Surrey be a “high priority” too?
Compounding Surrey voters’ frustration, our population has increased by 90 per cent since 1994 and we have not received a single transit extension while the Millennium, Canada, and Evergreen lines were built. Now our needs have come second again. Surrey commuters also have been adversely affected by the cancellation of the George Massey Bridge (which the NDP wants to be another tunnel) and the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge with one that will have no greater capacity.
To make it worse, our erratic Mayor Doug McCallum came back into power in 2018 by falsely claiming that he could build a SkyTrain extension from the King George Station to Langley for $1.65 billion, the same price as building light rail the same distance.
Of course, since then not one urban planner or engineer has publicly supported this claim and, revealingly, now the new SkyTrain extension is only proposed to go about half that distance, or to Fleetwood instead. And this was the main election issue.
But the greatest source of local anger by far is that Mayor McCallum has now claimed he has a mandate to get rid of the Surrey RCMP without meaningful consultation when legitimate stakeholders, including most Surrey voters, do not support this.
Brian Sauve, president of the National Police Federation of Canada, just released a poll which found “86 per cent of residents want the Surrey Police Board to come clean with a full accounting of all start up and transition costs” for a new police service. And a majority wants a referendum, which neither the NDP nor the Liberals can afford to ignore with so many seats at stake.
Why should Surrey voters listen to anyone who won’t listen to us?
Sauve argued the reason opposition to McCallum’s proposal is growing is that his initial claim of a $130 million transition cost, based on a joint study by Price Waterhouse Coopers and the Vancouver Police Department in 2019, simply isn’t credible because it does not include: pension transition costs, information technology, information management, or the costs of shared services.
Surrey residents are now in a strong position to be heard Oct. 24 and are crying out for real leadership from Victoria instead of Solicitor General Mike Farnworth’s constant fence-sitting.
To pretend that Mayor McCallum has a mandate for anything after coming to power with false promises, or that even the people who voted for him support his autocratic and secretive governing style, is to ignore the obvious. From White Rock to Whalley and from Scott Road to the Langley Bypass, there are now more lawn signs demanding to save the RCMP than all parties combined had in the last B.C. election.
In fact, Surrey voters are united by the RCMP issue as never before, because instead of this being a “right-left” topic, most residents see this as a “right-wrong” question. In the almost 50 years I have lived and grown up in this community, I have never seen such a consensus on anything, let alone such a focused, non-partisan, and grass roots campaign of determined Liberal and NDP voters alike.
Sadly, among the innocent victims of McCallum’s single-minded quest to abolish the RCMP have been vulnerable groups who have had their funding cancelled or even their entire organizations taken over to find extra money for the Mayor’s new police force obsession.
For example, two new ice sheets were cancelled in the Cloverdale area. There are kids getting up at 4 a.m. or getting off the ice at 11:30 p.m. on weekdays because Cloverdale has the same single sheet of ice it had in 1971! This affects dozens of groups, including hockey, figure skating, ringette, learn to skate, and sledge hockey programs. Surrey voters would support any provincial party which stops this madness.
Other Surrey ridings have been crying out for Victoria to press the pause button on this police transition process too because they have also been adversely affected. South Surrey residents have seen the Grandview Heights Community Centre and Library postponed. Ditto for Fleetwood residents with postponed expansions of their centre and library as well. Land acquisition for the performing arts has been shelved and even the funding for a much needed Indigenous gathering space has been frozen.
But of all the heartless decisions the Mayor has made in an effort to both hide and secure the true costs of his new police force, his move June 27 to disband the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society in a secretive “in camera” meeting of council has to be the worst.
Revealingly, this gave McCallum control of approximately $11 million in funds which belonged to the Surrey Homelessness and Housing Society.
Veteran councillor and former MLA Brenda Locke said for the City of Surrey to take over a society and run it without directors is a clear violation of the provincial Society Act.
From the homeless with no voice to our business leaders on the Surrey Board of Trade, it’s now time for Surrey voters to be heard. The only question now is, which one of the two major parties will listen?
Walter van Halst is a teacher at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School.