Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke says she refuses to take marching orders from a bureaucrat in Victoria after the province’s director of police services fired off a “rude” letter to her on Oct. 4 protesting that a lack of leadership and engagement at Surrey City Hall is causing concerning delays to the city’s policing transition.
“The letter was disappointing but it’s inaccurate and it’s obviously trying to point blame but it’s completely inaccurate, his statements are completely inaccurate, he doesn’t know the picture on the ground and I guess the other piece is I have no idea why Glen Lewis would be writing me,” Locke told the Now-Leader Tuesday (Oct. 10).
“He’s a bureaucrat, he should be writing bureaucrats. If the minister wants to say something to us he’s welcome to say something but it’s a little off protocol for a bureaucrat to be writing.”
Assistant Deputy Minister Glen Lewis in his Oct. 4 letter to Locke lists “significant” work that has been taken at senior levels of government since the city was advised in July that it must continue its transition to the Surrey Police Service, but says little has been done at the municipal level.
“It is my observation that this lack of progress and delay is due in large part to a lack of leadership and engagement by City Council and City staff,” Lewis, also director of police services, writes.
“In my view, City staff have been only minimally engaged in select aspects of this work to date and are seemingly constrained by a lack of clear direction from the Mayor and Council to progress the transition.”
City staff “consistently state to its partners that they are instructed not to engage meaningfully in any work” on the transition until council directs them to, Lewis adds.
Lewis in his letter to Locke writes “I strongly urge that the City rectify these matters forthwith and assume the leadership required to carry out its transition. To this end, I request a report back on the remedy of these items, in writing, from the City by the end of business day, October 13, 2023.”
This rankles Locke. “He picks a short week, first of all, so he gives us basically five business days to respond to something that’d they’ve taken literally almost, what, eight, nine months to come to a conclusion on,” she replied. “I think it’s rude and as I said, he’s a bureaucrat, he’s not going to instruct the mayor of a city what to do. I’m certainly not going to jump for a bureaucrat in Victoria.”
Last month, following questions to SPS Chief Constable Norm Lipinski and Surrey RCMP Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, Locke said the “leadership ball” was in the province’s court and that the province “needs to make sure… that there is a path forward.”
“This council has done everything asked of us and within our authority to follow through on our obligation to determine the policing model for our city,” Locke said at the time. “Much of the issues that we are dealing with are provincial and federal issues and that has become a lot of the stall.”
A corporate report that came before council Sept. 11 concluded that although Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth had directed Surrey to forge ahead with the SPS, “outstanding challenges remain” and development of a “comprehensive framework and planning documents is necessary for any transition to SPS.”
Farnworth ordered city council on July 19, 2023 to carry on with the transition to the SPS from the Surrey RCMP, despite council having voted 5-4 in November 2022 to maintain the Mounties as the city’s police of jurisdiction.
Locke and her Surrey Connect five-member majority campaigned on keeping the RCMP.
Other claims Lewis made in his letter include:
• Cost-increase concerns expressed by Locke to Premier David Eby “may be inaccurate and/or misrepresented.”
• The city failed to rectify its budget for the SPS following Farnworth’s July decision (in March 2023, the city allocated just $49 million to the first two quarters of the fiscal year, despite a 2023 provisional budget of approximately $160 million submitted by the Surrey Police Board last fall).
• While Locke has “stated publicly to the media” that she had no input on formal terms of reference for the independent facilitator who was appointed to help facilitate the transition process, as of the letter’s date, she did not take opportunities that were provided to do so.
Meantime, Surrey First Coun. Linda Annis issued a press release Oct. 6 suggesting Lewis’s letter also reinforces that “political ego” is playing a role in stalling the policing transition.
“Clearly, just like local taxpayers, the provincial government has had enough of the political foot dragging from Mayor Locke,” Annis says, noting the inaction is costing taxpayers an extra $8 million per month, through having to pay for two police forces at the same time.
“The decision to move forward with the transition to the SPS has been made, and regardless of how Brenda Locke feels about it, she has a responsibility to get on with it. Instead, we are seeing a serious and calculated lack of progress that has its roots in political ego rather than doing what’s good for Surrey.”
Also last week, Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra issued a press release attacking Locke.
“Mayor Locke’s leadership has been marred by inaction and a lack of clear direction. We can no longer accept excuses for the delays she has caused. It’s time for her to step up or step aside,” Elford says.
Nagra echoed him.
“We understand the complexities of the transition, but Mayor Locke’s shocking refusal to meet with Public Safety staff to discuss Minister Mike Farnworth’s offer of $150 million in provincial cash to help with the transition is inexcusable,” Nagra charged.
In reply to Annis, Elford and Nagra, Locke said the “level of disrespect they have shown towards not only me but to council is enormous but I’m not going to respond to their comments, it’s all just political. I wish they spent more time trying to be ambassadors for this city, not constantly acting the way they do, but they choose to.”
Meanwhile, Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman sent a letter to Farnworth on Oct. 4 concerning local businesses being saddled with a bigger tax bill in 2024 on account of two police forces operating in the city with no second-phase plan for replacing the Surrey RCMP with the Surrey Police Service.
Huberman also charged that since Jessica MacDonald was appointed as the liaison between the Provincial Government and the City of Surrey in the summer, “no public comments or materials have been released highlighting the work done thus far. We are deeply concerned with the lack of transparency and communication.”
On that, Locke said she last met with MacDonald in August. “I believe she’s talked with some of the staff here but she hasn’t provided us with, at least that I know of, anything concrete so I’m not sure, but I do understand what the Surrey Board of Trade and Anita is talking about, and I’m concerned about it too. There is no question that the predicament that the minister has put the City of Surrey in is a very, very costly one and he may be doing it for the balance of the province, but for the City of Surrey, his decision is going to cost our residents significantly and all our taxpayers, including our business community.”
Locke has on occasion complained that Farnworth isn’t contacting her personally. She said she last received a letter from him in mid-September. “He’s finally admitting he doesn’t have a plan so fair enough, but somehow he wants us to create the plan and that’s difficult,” Locke said Oct. 10.
– with files from Tracy Holmes.