Surrey mayor's coalition pushes ahead with 5-year budget plan despite safety concerns
SURREY -- Surrey city council voted 5-4 in favour of a five-year draft budget that will see millions of dollars spent on the transition to a municipal police force while setting aside no money to hire new RCMP officers or firefighters in the meantime.
"I just want to apologize to the people of Surrey. I'm sorry. I did what I could," said Coun. Steven Pettigrew, one of those who voted against the plan.
"We are not strengthening our RCMP officers. They are asked to do more and more with less and less and we need to be able to support them, not keep knocking them down. And the same thing for our firefighters. We need to be able to strengthen their numbers."
In the hours leading up to the vote, dozens of citizens stepped forward to share their thoughts with council.
"We do not need a new police force -- we need adequate resources now," said Darlene Bennett, whose husband Paul was shot dead in the family’s driveway in June 2018. Police say the murder was a case of mistaken identity.
"Isn't that what this budget supports? That the citizens of Surrey are expendable?" said Bennett in an emotional speech. "That the creation of a municipal police force comes at the expense of human life? It's not acceptable now and it never will be."
Despite the vocal opposition, Mayor Doug McCallum insists he has the support of a silent majority.
"We will continue to listen to the people of Surrey and what they want to see in Surrey. And we'll fight for them very, very hard in getting our own police force," said McCallum after the vote.
The mayor has frequently insisted the only way to make the city safer is to fast-track the transition.
"Every time something happens, he seems to want to blame the RCMP that it's their problem that it actually happened," said Ivan Scott of the Keep RCMP in Surrey Campaign. "It's his problem because he hasn't given them enough boots on the ground."
The draft budget still needs to pass one last vote after final reading later this month, but unless one of the councillors who support it has a change of heart there won't be funding set aside for new firefighters or RCMP officers for the foreseeable future in one of Canada’s fastest growing cities.