Amid the current Provincial Election, it would appear that the police transition is the hot topic for voters in Surrey. While there are promises of hospitals and schools and many other of the usual election campaign promises, the topic most discussed remains the police transition.
The biggest unanswered question is – does Mayor and council have the support of the Surrey taxpayers to make the transition from the current police force to a new city police force?
Keep the RCMP in Surrey supporters say the answer is no. The 60,000 voters in Surrey have signed their petition which would be a strong indication that Surrey voters don’t support the transition.
Those in support of the city police force say that the decision was made when the Mayor and his Safe Surrey Coalition won the municipal election and there needs be no more discussion about it.
Most still firmly on the fence are asking for more information such as the cost to taxpayers, the advantages of the transition and how they will know the process was free of outside influence.
Without answers to these crucial questions, it would be hard to make an informed decision about something which will affect each taxpayer both by seeing an increase in their taxes or by their interactions with the police in future. This is one decision which affects us all.
Those who feel that they are at the mercy of a corrupt mayor and council, want the province to intervene. Those who voted for the Mayor want the province to stay out of municipal affairs.
The NDP stated that this was a municipal matter which could not be interfered with, but many legal experts say that isn’t the case. As the municipalities rights under law are carved from the provincial rights under law, they feel that the province has a mandate to step in.
The campaign to keep the RCMP in Surrey is non-partisan but they have encouraged their 60,000 supporters to vote for whatever party will assist them in getting an answer to the question of what Surrey taxpayers really want. This group wants a referendum. They believe that the voters should have a change to have their say in something which will affect liveability and affordability in this city.
The Liberal party has promised, if elected, to hold a referendum on this issue and that has many voters now talking about their possible choices. While the polls had put the NDP firmly in power in Surrey, with most citizens saying they were happy with their performance to date and many quick to reference the Liberals many missteps of the past, many who said they would never vote Liberal are now looking up their liberal candidates.
The question being asked now is, can the Liberals be trusted to deliver on this promise? While a referendum would not be binding on the municipality, it would answer the question once and for all as to the support the Mayor and Safe Surrey coalition has for this transition.
Ian Scott, the determined leader of the Keep the RCMP movement, has said that if the referendum came back that the majority of voters wanted this transition, then he would accept that decision.
The implication being that the organization would back off. However, if the referendum shows that the majority of taxpayers do not want the transition to proceed, then he would be doubling his efforts and the efforts of his team to demand that voters and taxpayers are heard.
To that end, Ian Scott has sent a letter to each candidate asking them for their personal view on this issue and with that response in mind, he is advising his supporters to vote accordingly.
Some of those letters are now coming back but they did receive one response from the provincial NDP which reads as follows:
Dear Keep the RCMP in Surrey Campaign, Thank you for your survey concerning the issue of Surrey policing.
The responsibility to provide policing lies with the city governments for all BC communities of over 5,000 people. That is why we believe that concerns about the city’s decision to change policing, a municipal service, must be addressed with the Surrey City Council.
The role of the provincial government when it comes to municipal policing: to ensure that public safety is maintained. And that is what we will continue to do.
The leader of the BC Liberals has been trying to muddy the waters but has been unclear about what he would actually do. Only a few weeks ago, Andrew Wilkinson admitted that he was “not close enough to the issue to have thoughtful things to say about it” (CKNW, September 23).
Now, the BC Liberal leader has suggested he would hold a referendum but he doesn’t know or won’t say if it would be advisory or binding until after the election. (CKNW, October 5, 2020).
He created even more uncertainty when he was asked by CBC if the referendum would be binding, saying: “That has to be determined because obviously you gotta figure out exactly what the question is first and you gotta figure out what the information is which will drive the question.”
Wilkinson’s ambiguity has created even more division in his effort to gain votes: he has no clear position. Conflicting comments from BC Liberal MLAs only create further confusion:
Stephanie Cadieux: “We don’t want to comment on the merits of a municipal force over the RCMP or vice versa. […] We respect that this is by statute, a municipal decision to move forward.” (July 6, 2020 Facebook)
Just before Wilkinson’s sudden campaign promise, Cadieux also said: “I don’t know if a referendum is the right answer.” (Oct 6, Peace Arch News)
The Police Act states that when it comes to municipalities with more than 5,000 people, it is the municipality that is responsible for decisions about how to provide law enforcement in their community.
Despite all the controversy, we in the BC NDP are committed to strong public safety policies for every BC community and we will fulfill that provincial responsibility.
Sincerely, BC NDP
This response seems to indicate that the supporters of Keep the RCMP in Surrey will not be getting any assistance from the NDP and as such they will likely be directing their votes elsewhere.
While the letter does take some jabs at Andrew Wilkinson and quotes comments from the early summer, it is clear that at this point the Liberals are standing behind their promise of a referendum but just what the long-term outcome of that will be remains uncertain.
It will be interesting to see how many of the Surrey voters will be influenced by this. If the number of supporters on the continuing petition are anything to go by, this should make the NDP contenders nervous as the Liberals will continue to use this issue to their advantage in this upcoming election.
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