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Rob Shaw: Surrey policing dispute heats up again as mayor spurns $250M offer

Mayor Brenda Locke prepares to play election-time game of chicken with BC NDP
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke has ghosted the provincial government when it comes to the Surrey Police Service, writes Rob Shaw.

There’s no new deal in the long-running policing dispute between the City of Surrey and the B.C. government, but Tuesday’s latest round of finger-pointing did make one thing clear: Mayor Brenda Locke is hell-bent on inflicting the maximum possible damage to the BC NDP, financial consequences for her city be damned.

Locke tabled Surrey’s new budget Tuesday, in the process ignoring Premier David Eby’s latest offer of another $100 million in financial aid to transition from the RCMP to a new municipal police force, on top of $150 million already on the table.

Eby had been waiting for a month for Locke to accept or reject his $250-million proposal. She did neither, choosing instead to simply ghost him.

The move left New Democrats sputtering with outrage. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth emerged Tuesday to declare Surrey had until 4 p.m. to accept the cash. Locke plowed through that deadline, too.

“We put solutions on the table to prevent transition-related tax increases and still the city rejected it,” said Farnworth.

“Any additional costs that end up getting passed onto the people of Surrey are the result of the failure of the mayor and council.”

That may be the NDP’s hope. But Locke is already crafting a campaign that blames the BC NDP for refusing to allow the city to keep the RCMP as its police force of jurisdiction.

The campaign will land just before the October provincial election in the form of a municipal “budget update” and say something like: Your property taxes are going up 12 per cent next year because Premier David Eby and his seven Surrey MLAs are forcing you to accept a new police force you don’t want.

Imagine that message landing on the doorstep of every household, via the municipality, and then backstopped by a mayor out on the warpath, intent on sabotaging the NDP’s campaign efforts in the most electorally-rich city in the province.

“If we are forced to go with the Surrey Police Service, we will go with a fiscal update in the fall that will absolutely make it clear the cost implications to Surrey taxpayers,” Locke told media at city hall.

She sharpened that message later in the day while on CKNW radio with host Jas Johal.

“I’m still hopeful we are going to keep the RCMP in Surrey, that is the desire of our city and the desire of our council,” she said.

“That is still our goal, and what we based our budget on. But if it is imposed on the city, I will do a budget update in the fall so the public knows what to expect for next year’s property tax increase. And make no mistake, it will be significant.”

Locke continues to insist the NDP government’s refusal to let her city abandon the police transition and return to the SPS will cost Surrey around $500 million.

So far, the NDP has only offered $250 million. It’s not going any higher, said Farnworth.

“That was the final offer,” he said.

But that’s not true either.

The closer we get to Oct. 19, the more likely the Eby administration is to fold, so it can run an unfettered attempt to win Surrey’s nine provincial ridings.

You better believe the BC NDP can rustle up $500 million in additional aid later this summer if the Surrey situation is not resolved. It’s a drop in a budget, with an $8-billion deficit and billions in contingencies lying around for just this kind of political emergency. And Locke knows it.

In the meantime, though, the NDP intends to play tough. Farnworth said he’ll unveil his own plan next week to spend $150 million in provincial aid while also implementing the SPS.

The government also feels it has a strong case to win a judicial challenge the city has brought against it on policing, which starts later this month. Even if it loses, the province can still act.

“The judicial review does not overturn a decision,” said Farnworth. “What it does is it sends it back to government, potentially, to be implemented by the law as it exists today in the province of British Columbia.

“And that law is very clear that Surrey will be policed by the Surrey Police Service.”

No matter who wins the next court challenge, Locke has made clear she’s on a single-minded mission to cause as much damage to the NDP as possible unless it agrees to her demands for half a billion dollars.

You can call that a crafty strategy, a tough negotiation or even political extortion. But it is what it is. The NDP has to face it. And it’s running out of time, with only 27 weeks to the election.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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