In wake of Mayor Doug McCallum's criminal charge, NDP government must give Surrey residents a say on policing

The residents of Surrey have spoken—and it's time for the cabinet to listen to them

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      The Surrey Police Vote campaign did something truly remarkable earlier this year.

      It collected signatures of 42,942 Surrey residents calling for a referendum on whether B.C.'s second-largest city should retain the RCMP.

      That vastly exceeded an Elections B.C. threshold of 10 percent of the registered voters for each constituency in a provincewide initiative campaign.

      These numbers were achieved despite Mayor Doug McCallum's efforts to thwart the petition drive.

      Bylaw officers fined volunteers collecting signatures in a public park. That occurred in the face of various Supreme Court rulings upholding the public's constitutional right to free expression on public property.

      If Attorney General David Eby truly cared about the canvassers' constitutional rights, he would have held a news conference condemning the City of Surrey's actions. But he didn't do that.

      I'm guessing that in his mind, Surrey is a long way from the posh Vancouver–Point Grey constituency that he represents in the legislature.

      Now, McCallum has been charged with public mischief in another alleged act of intimidation.

      The charge against the mayor hasn't been proven in court. But a special prosecutor has looked at the evidence and concluded that there's a substantial likelihood of McCallum being convicted of filing a false police complaint to discredit canvassers. We'll see what a judge or jury says.

      Meanwhile, Surrey Police Vote organizers maintain that several city employees support the campaign, but say that they refused to sign petitions for fear of retaliation from the mayor.

      Those who have publicly supported the petition drive include several of Surrey's most prominent citizens: former mayors Bob Bose and Linda Hepner, Surrey Board of Trade president and CEO Anita Huberman, and victims'-rights activist Eileen Mohan.

      The hard work of the canvassers places a moral obligation, if not a legal duty, on the province to hold a binding referendum.

      But so far, Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and the rest of cabinet have refused to commit to this.

      To date, the B.C. NDP government has capitulated to McCallum on several fronts. Provincial politicians stood on the sidelines as McCallum banned ride-hailing companies like Uber in the city—it was only a B.C. Supreme Court judge that put a stop to that.

      The B.C. NDP government also enthusiastically supported McCallum's decision to redo rapid-transit in a way that impaired effective city planning for a more livable city and rewarded land speculators along the Fraser Highway.

      Now, the B.C. NDP is playing a supporting role in ramming a more expensive police force on city taxpayers without giving direct democracy a chance.

      The only time the province spoke out was when Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne questioned the legality of McCallum banning several people from speaking at council meetings.

      Anyone with even a minor interest in psychology or education knows that if you support a bully, you end up scarring yourself in the long term. 

      "Despite the moral value most of us place on defending a vulnerable person who is being bullied, many responders explained that a fear of retaliation—that is, fear that they would be attacked themselves—kept them from taking any action," F. Diane Barth wrote in Psychology Today in 2019.

      To put it simply, the B.C. NDP cabinet is too scared to stand up to McCallum on the big issues for fear of being attacked by him. The province has been his accomplice.

      What does that say about the cabinet's moral authority to govern in these difficult times? And how will the voters of Surrey react to this in the next provincial election as this realization sinks in?

      The B.C. NDP holds seven of the nine seats in Surrey. There was a time, after the 2001 election, when the NDP had zero seats in Surrey.

      If Surrey voters don't get a referendum on policing, will they turn the next provincewide vote into a referendum on the NDP's lack of courage? If so, it's not going to be a fun campaign for those NDP incumbents, especially if the B.C. Liberals elect a leader who resonates with Surrey voters.