British Columbia

B.C. Liberals promise to hold referendum on Surrey's police-force transition if elected

In a written statement on Sunday, the Liberals said "the NDP's mismanagement of the Surrey policing issue has resulted in broken trust and lost confidence."

Mayor Doug McCallum says replacing the RCMP is 'a done deal'

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum stands near a mock-up of a Surrey city police vehicle in 2019. He campaigned and was elected in 2018 on a promise to create a municipal police force to replace the city's RCMP service. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The B.C. Liberals have promised to put Surrey's transition to a municipal police force on hold and put the issue to a referendum if they are elected. 

In a written statement on Sunday, the Liberals said "the NDP's mismanagement of the Surrey policing issue has resulted in broken trust and lost confidence."

"The people of Surrey deserve better," the statement read. "From conversations with thousands of voters in this campaign, it's clear that Surrey residents want a voice in the path forward."

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum campaigned and won in the 2018 civic election on a plan to replace the RCMP with a municipal force. McCallum has pledged to have Surrey Police Department patrols begin in April 2021.

The city has put the cost of the transition at $19 million. 

In a written statement Sunday, McCallum responded by saying the Surrey Police Service "is a done deal and the B.C. Liberals are playing politics with the public safety of our residents."

"I am appalled that the B.C. Liberal leader has stooped to this level of desperation in an effort to garner votes," McCallum said. 

"For the B.C. Liberals to interfere in the unanimous decision of an elected city council should be a concern to all municipal governments in our province."

B.C Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson told CBC on Monday that during the election campaign, party representatives have been knocking on doors in Surrey and the No. 1 issue people want to discuss is the police force transition.

"If 500,000 people in Surrey are crying out for further say in this, and a referendum is a way to do it, that's what the legislature is for," said Wilkinson.

A 'desperate act'

Port Coquitlam NDP candidate Mike Farnworth, who has recently served as the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, called the Liberals' "flip flop" on the issue a "desperate act." 

"[B.C. Liberal Leader] Andrew Wilkinson has reversed the position taken by his own MLAs, who have stated for months that this is a municipal responsibility," Farnworth said in a written statement.

Surrey is only municipality in Canada with more than 300,000 residents that doesn't have its own police force. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

"Just a few days ago, Wilkinson admitted that he did not know enough about this issue. Today he proved that statement was true," he said.

Farnworth said policing is a municipal responsibility and the province's role is to ensure that public safety is maintained. 

'We're very excited'

Ivan Scott, coordinator for the group called Keep the RCMP in Surrey, said he was pleasantly surprised by the announcement. 

"We're very excited about this," Scott said. 

"It's a vindication that we have at least one of the political parties who have now actually recognised that the people of Surrey are against this transition and they want their voices to be heard."

The province gave its final approval to the plans in February. But at the same time, a report from the chair of the policing transition committee, former attorney general Wally Oppal, found the timeline to be ambitious.

Opposition from National Police Federation

Since McCallum took office in 2018, several city councillors have quit, citing lack of transparency around the transition to a municipal police force as a factor in their decisions.

A survey commissioned by the union representing Mounties shows that Surrey residents want their civic government to rethink plans to transition to a municipal force during the pandemic.

The National Police Federation has been vocal in its opposition to the transition, saying the plan is unpopular with many councillors and residents.

The federation has called on the board to reveal the full cost of McCallum's transition plan.

To hear B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson discuss the Surrey police force transition and other election issues on CBC's The Early Edition, tap here.

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

With files from The Early Edition

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