British Columbia·Analysis

Doug McCallum's short-term future as Surrey mayor isn't in doubt. Longer term is a different story

Here’s what has changed in Surrey since Mayor Doug McCallum was criminally charged with one count of mischief stemming from claims he was hit by a car following an altercation with pro-RCMP supporters: nothing. 

It's another municipal controversy with no mechanism to resolve criminal charges against a sitting politician

A man in a suit sits on a table in an office. A map of the city of Surrey is behind him.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has said he will continue serving while a mischief charge against him is dealt with in the courts. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Here's what has changed in Surrey since Mayor Doug McCallum was criminally charged with one count of mischief stemming from claims he was hit by a car following an altercation with pro-RCMP supporters: nothing. 

The mayor is still the mayor and has said he has no plans to step down. The people who have opposed him for years — notably councillors Linda Annis, Brenda Locke and the groups campaigning against the new police force — are more critical than ever, calling on him to resign or take a leave of absence but have no power to compel him to do so.

The province continues to not wade into municipal affairs, with Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth declining comment this week. And the four Safe Surrey Coalition councillors that give him a majority at city hall have continued to support him.

"We have immense confidence in the leadership of Mayor Doug McCallum, who has remained steadfast against aggressive, well funded opposition who from day one have tried every trick in the book to undermine democracy," wrote Coun. Laurie Guerra in a statement.

"I believe in the rule of law where people are innocent until proven guilty. I know first-hand the kind of abuse this Keep the RCMP in Surrey group has put me through and I'll tell you they are vicious!!!!!"

So, absent new developments, it is hard to imagine much changing in the political makeup of B.C.'s second biggest city before McCallum's first court date Jan. 25, or in the months after.

But there are two larger questions that are worth considering.

The Mayor of Surrey claimed his foot was run over back in September. Now he is facing public mischief charges.

Role for the province?

The province has indicated it won't directly intervene in this situation or comment on the charges, and there is no mechanism for local politicians to be disqualified — outside of very narrow circumstances — or recalled. 

"This circumstance does not lead to any automatic disqualification, nor in my view, does it give the rest of council an opportunity to seek a disqualification," said John Alexander, a Victoria lawyer who has practised municipal law for 30 years. 

But in 2019, when Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov was charged with sexual assault, he mostly took a leave of absence while the legal situation was resolved, after repeated criticism from other councillors and the province.

It's another municipal controversy involving criminal charges against a sitting politician, with no mechanism for how it should be handled outside the discretion of those directly in the middle of the political storm. 

"There's no ability to take this anywhere, to get a bit of feedback on how to find solutions for situations like this," said Port Coquitlam Coun. Laura Dupont. 

She's one of several Metro Vancouver politicians who have called on the province to create a municipal ombudsperson position to adjudicate these types of disputes, instead of having councils police themselves. 

"Because we are in political competition with each other, it makes it particularly problematic, and I believe inappropriate, for us to enforce one another's conduct," she said.

"An independent, third party is necessary in this type of situation."

Will McCallum stay?

Then there's the question of whether McCallum runs for re-election next year, or who might step up to face him.

The mayor has repeatedly said he plans to seek a fifth term in office, something not achieved in Surrey's modern history. 

But his Safe Surrey Coalition has not made any statement since the charge and speculation has begun on whether the party would support his campaign if he were to be found guilty. 

And all that uncertainty has people making calls.

"Are people phoning and asking me? Yes," said NDP and Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims, who has previously been a Surrey MP and president of the B.C. Teachers Federation.

"Lots of rumours," she said to CBC News, declining to unequivocally rule out a campaign but saying her focus is purely on provincial politics at the moment. 

Given Sims' politics have been historically quite different from McCallums, the rumour may seem unusual.

But little is usual about Surrey politics these days and likely won't be until next October's election. 

with files from Meera Bains

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