Suddenly, when it comes to Surrey’s controversial policing transition, some MLA candidates are being criticized for changing their tune. Still others have either broken their silence or remain so.
Before the election campaign began, Surrey’s Liberal and NDP MLAs were mostly content to let Surrey city council members duke it out over the transition while they sat at the sidelines. The only local politician, at a higher than civic government level, to speak his mind on the issue was Liberal MP Ken Hardie, representing Fleetwood-Port Kells.
Hardie penned a guest column in the Now-Leader last December arguing that the city should hold a referendum on its plan to replace the RCMP.
Ivan Scott, organizer of the Keep the RCMP campaign in Surrey, says it’s “wonderful” that one of the parties – the provincial Liberals – have come out and “listened to the people.”
But Scott told the Now-Leader on Monday that until now Surrey’s Liberal MLAs have been silent on the issue.
“We were very disappointed in all of them, in actual fact,” Scott said. “We thought that this was an opportunity that they could have taken it to hold the government’s feet to the fire, in actual fact, bring it up a long time ago.”
Still, he says, his organization is “non-partisan” and will endorse “whoever is going to be for us.”
Now that provincial battle lines have been drawn on the issue, with the Liberals promising to stage a referendum on it if they are elected into government, opinions abound.
The Liberals issued a press release Tuesday claiming former Surrey city councillor Mike Starchuk, who is running for the NDP in Surrey-Cloverdale, is “singing a different tune” now on the transition.
The Liberal release says Starchuk wrote “If there ever was a time in history to press pause, it’s now” on his blog in June and in a “since-deleted post” Starchuk said: “If McCallum thought for a minute that the majority of the residence (sic) of Surrey really wanted this, he would have a referendum to prove it.”
Marvin Hunt, Liberal incumbent and MLA candidate for Surrey-Cloverdale, says the NDP’s “silencing of candidates makes you wonder what the NDP is hiding.”
Starchuk told the Now-Leader on Tuesday that he didn’t “flip-flop.
“There seems to be a concern that I flip-flopped or something like that, and that’s not the case.”
“Public safety is paramount and transparency in the process has to be there. Public safety has to be number one. I’ve never changed that tune, ever,” he said. Starchuk said he was making reference to spending during the middle of a pandemic, and concerning the deleted post, he said, “It’s clear to me that that’s not the provincial responsibility.
“It actually existed,” he said of the post. “When I realized that in fact I was wrong in what I said, it didn’t make sense to keep it there so I corrected what I said.”
In retort, he accused Hunt of being silent on the policing transition issue until Wilkinson jumped on it, “and then Marvin comes out and makes this 30-second video, and all of a sudden it’s there.”
Jagrup Brar, NDP incumbent and MLA candidate for Surrey-Fleetwood, said “clearly” Wilkinson “has reversed the position taken by his own Surrey MLAs who have stated for months that this is a municipal responsibility” and “what I think is Andrew Wilkinson and the BC Liberals are trying to interfere in a Surrey municipal policing decision.”
The role of the provincial government is to ensure public safety is maintained, he said, “and that’s what we are doing.
“It’s very surprising that in the middle of the election Andrew Wilkinson is playing politics with a very serious public safety issue.”
Jinny Sims, NDP incumbent and MLA candidate for Surrey-Panorama, told the Now-Leader that a policing decision is a “municipal issue” and “large cities have the right to choose whether they have the RCMP or whether they want their own policing.”
“That is a municipal decision,” she said. “Where the province comes in, to make sure the transition comes in in an orderly manner and looks after the safety and security of people.
“I know that people of Surrey are very upset, but they also have to realize that I have taken their concerns, Keep the RCMP in Surrey, to the highest level,” she said. “I’ve raised their concerns with people, but at the end of the day the decision belongs to the City of Surrey.”
Stephanie Cadieux, Liberal incumbent and MLA candidate for Surrey South, told the Now-Leader prior to Wilkinson’s referendum promise on Sunday that “there has been a huge breakdown of public trust” related to the policing transition. “I have heard it in my riding. I have had more community connection related to this than any other issue in my time.
“This is largely a municipal issue but there’s provincial implications,” she said. “The reality is that the NDP have been silent on this despite the public outcry for information, the public outcry for transparency, the public outcry for it to take another look at this. I support transparency and engagement on this issue, as does my leader. I don’t know if a referendum is the right answer but the reality is there’s no doubt that there is a huge chasm that needs to be filled where it comes to providing the public with a clear picture of what the transition looks like, what it costs and how it is going to impact the taxpayer both in Surrey and provincially.”
Asked if a Liberal government would ensure that, Cadieux replied that “we would ensure transparency. There are mechanisms to do that and once we form government, we see where things are at, we can make sure that that happens.”