Surrey, home of the RCMP’ s biggest municipal detachment, is now a political plank in the current election platforms of the two major parties in the wacky world of British Columbia politics. Unusual to be sure for an RCMP organization which historically considered itself apolitical. The old Mountie guard remained above the pettiness— the grimy dirt of politics— it needed to be objective, forever the humble and unbiased servant of the people.
The N.P.F. is now changing those mores.
Surrey has now become the site for the ongoing battle between the RCMP– more accurately the union representing its current 800 plus members— the National Police Federation (NPF) –and the duly and properly elected government of the Surrey Coalition Party led by Mayor MacCallum.
The NPF has taken the position that they know what is best for an electorate which only a short time ago dramatically voted in favour of a new municipal police force, a promise that was a central tenet proposed by Mayor MacCallum and his municipal party.
The NPF along with their political cohorts now argue that Surrey needs to retain the RCMP—the primary reason– they are cheaper.
Why pay more they say, when Surrey is already the Walmart of policing. Their argument in point of fact fits in nicely with the new Walmart slogan “Save Money, Live Better” (the old slogan was “Always Low Prices ” which would also have worked)
For a long time, the debate pro and con has been waged in small skirmishes for the most part confined to the boundaries of Surrey. However, the calling of a Provincial election and a new Liberal promise has now thrust the issue on to the electoral and media stages as much as they can elbow away Covid.
Struggling from a very distant second in the polls Liberal leader Wilkinson is sprinkling Liberal gold dust throughout the Province. Sprinkling may be an understatement, more a fire hose, offering to spend billions of dollars in various parts of the Province. Like most parties who get a glimpse of some sort of electoral advantage, Mr. Wilkinson is now grasping for a possible political gain by supporting a referendum in Surrey. No concern apparently for the independence of municipal politics or the duly elected government.
The Liberal party has three ridings in Surrey which are of interest and may be in trouble; Guildford, Panorama and Cloverdale. He and his party clearly believe that his newfound stance will play well in these areas of middle class rectitude.
The NDP government for their part having climbed on to the shoulders of poor Dr Bonny Henry to scan the horizon, now feel that this is an opportune time to ride that Covid wave. They are in a difficult spot in Surrey as their government through the Police Services department has already approved the going forward of a new police department–at least in its initial stages. When previously approached about changing his mind, Horgan quite rightly stated that the city of Surrey has the right to go forward with their proposal. The Province has no legitimate right to intervene.
With the Wilkinson announcement the usual rolodex of commentators have now been given some political fertilizer to spread on the idea of a referendum. They already disliked MacCallum.
The NPF is the wedge. Although political neophytes, this has not hampered their enthusiasm.
Their motivation seems simple enough—they do not want to lose the membership in their union. The Surrey detachment is a flagship in the overall contract policing environment. It is representative of the “big city” RCMP policing model, one of only a handful throughout the entire country. To lose the biggest out of your group is not the best first step for any union.
There are other chess pieces in this process; the NDP and their leader Mr. Horgan; the Liberals under Mr. Wilkinson. Then there are the very vocal Surrey City Counsil members Linda Annis and fellow Surrey Counsel member and former Mountie himself Jack Hundial. The centre is held by the curmudgeonly Mayor MacCallum, the dastardly wizard pulling the levers.
The NPF using house money pouring in from their new found members have begun launching ads, enlisting supporters and putting out lawn signs (which apparently, legally, they were not allowed to do–I guess they forgot to check local bylaws) . They believe, rightly or wrongly, that they enjoy the support of all the officers of Surrey in putting up the show of a good fight. However, in speaking with officers in that detachment, one does not get a sense that all are enamoured with their new union bosses.
The NPF have enlisted local politicians to spout their platform, and are receiving encouragement from former Mounties writing in to the printed media. Including, the former head of Surrey detachment Al McIntyre and ex- Deputy Commissioner Peter German (who recently authored the report on money laundering for the Province.) With the exception of one local politician, all of these individuals are of course former RCMP officers.
The centre piece of the NPF argument is the evidence they claim to have gained from a paid for survey that they conducted. This blogger has talked about it previously, suffice to say the veracity of the survey can be questioned. But emanating from this “survey” they are putting out narratives such as: only “14%” of the current RCMP officers would switch to a new agency. That the undertaking is “costly…unsafe…unpopular”.
As previously eluded to, the enlisted municipal political arm for the NPF come from two clearly disgruntled politicians; Linda Annis, and to a somewhat lesser degree ex-Mountie Jack Hundial.
Ms. Annis was a member of the Surrey First political group, finished 6th in the election for counsel and was the single survivor of the overwhelming majority won by Mayor MacCallum who won on two central issues, a separate police force and a skytrain extension.
Annis was previously a cohort of Dianne Watts, a popular mayor who believed that this would translate into a run at the Provincial Liberal leadership. It didn’t work out for her. Interestingly, Watts first won a seat with MacCallum’s group in 1996 but then had a falling out and went on to form her own party.
Watts enjoyed a very bonded, some would say intimate relationship with the RCMP during her time. Annis as head of Crimestoppers B.C clearly believes she has that same connection.
Annis currently runs an ad where she proclaims that the Surrey residents are facing “an unprecedented crisis”, that moving to a new local force would “risk public safety on an unknown, untested, and under-resourced force”.
She goes on to say that the plan will result in “chaos and significant risks to public safety around the region”. This latter argument is based on the theory that any new agency will draw out resources from other departments. The chaos and risk to public safety language is simply pandering to Twitter and the rest of the media.
So on the one hand, her argument goes—no new Mounties will want to go this agency, but on the other it will be too much of a draw on resources from all the other agencies surrounding Surrey?
Needless to say, Annis is not and has never been a supporter of MacCallum.
This fight, marching in step with the NPF reeks of being a very personal battle for her.
Councillor Jack Hundial on the other hand actually ran under MacCallum’s ticket with the Safe Surrey Coalition in the past election. He has now become a turncoat.
Clearly, no longer enamoured with the Mayor and just as clearly he has been pushed from the inner political power circle. He has now gone on to form his own group with Councillor Brenda Locke, now calling themselves Surrey Connect. The reason for this falling out is not clear. This writer has known Mr. Hundial for some time and have had many personal discussions working together–usually about the failings of the RCMP. So this sea change to retain the RCMP on a personal level seems somewhat out of sync.
The talk media, especially CKNW has a very historical connection to the Liberal party. Remember Christy Clark’s radio show? They are equally motivated by the fact that they do not like MacCallum, never have. He won’t go on their shows.
Linda Annis on the other hand answers on the first ring and appears almost daily.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Indo Canadian Voice newspaper says Annis politicking “hysteria knows no bounds” and says that the enlisting of Peter German “is an utter disgrace”.
So what should we take from all this?
First and foremost, the call for a referendum may be legally flawed.
Furthermore, all of this debate has little to do with the facts or the actual possible transition to another police force. The debate and the call for a referendum has descended into parochial politics.
There is one guarantee. The cost of policing in Surrey is going to increase dramatically regardless of who wins this debate and the political tug of war.
What the anti-MacCallum forces don’t mention is that the RCMP is currently in negotiation with the Treasury Board for a pay raise. A pay raise that will be retroactive to 2017. The RCMP has already warned the municipalities that they are currently projecting a 2.5% increase per year.
This 2.5% increase would mean a $3600 per year per officer— or roughly $2.8 million per year. Over three years $8.6 million just to catch up. Let’s not forget that the RCMP, the very same NPF who argues about the Mounties being cheaper is arguing for a 17% increase, not a 7 or 8% increase.
On the other side the transition to a new Force is currently projected to increase policing costs by 10 or 11%. Many argue that this figure is too low and there is not enough transparency to make a full determination. They could be right, but any transition costs money. For the opposition to now argue that the electorate did not think it would cost any money to commit to a transfer is a bit specious.
The voters of Surrey were and seem to have been asking for a transition for greater accountability and an ability to set local policing priorities in terms of resourcing and policing initiatives. How much are they willing to pay for that extra accountability and local input would be very difficult to measure.
The referendum advocates clearly want to couch any future question to the electorate as a question of whether people want to see their taxes go up. Do you know any group of taxpayers who would answer in the positive? (By the way it also costs money to run a referendum.)
Walmart is the largest private employer in the world, and the RCMP is the largest police force in Canada. Maybe, there are some similarities.
But remember, Walmart keeps prices down –partly because they proudly state that they don’t believe in unions — the Mounties now have the NPF.
The NPF is arguing that they must keep the Mounties, they are cheaper, while also stating that they need to hire more RCMP officers. But, to the Federal Treasury Board they are saying the Mounties are worth much, much more.
Conundrums, Aisle 5.