As Brenda Locke’s policing losses mount, mandate argument weakens

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has upheld provincial legislation to force a police transition in Surrey, and while Mayor Brenda Locke continues to be combative, there are questions about the strength of her mandate to continue to try to keep the RCMP in her city.

This week presented the latest loss in Locke’s desire to deliver on the single most important issue upon which she campaigned in 2022: stopping a transition from the RCMP to a municipal force.

The city initiated the judicial review to argue that the public safety minister was going against the will of voters who elected Locke on a promise to keep the RCMP.

Locke, who is still not admitting defeat, and hasn’t yet decided on an appeal, continues to maintain she’s in the fight to prevent the cost of policing from increasing in B.C.’s second largest and fastest-growing municipality.

“The tax burden facing Surrey residents is the reason why the majority of the members of this council and I have fought so very hard to put an end to this transition,” she said Thursday at a news conference, wearing a red blazer similar to the Mounties’ red serge. 

A key tenet of her argument is this is what she was elected to do, but results from the past elections show a city that did not clamber to the polls to vote in a manner that was emphatic about the issue.

In both the 2018 election, when Doug McCallum won on a campaign to bring in a municipal force, and in 2022 when Locke defeated him for the opposite, only around 32 per cent of eligible voters cast a vote in Surrey.

Both elections were defined by a three-candidate race where one was able to come up the middle and snatch victory.

McCallum, who called on Locke to resign on Thursday after the judicial review was released, won 41 per cent of the vote in 2018, while Locke won with only 28 per cent of the vote in 2022, barely topping McCallum’s 27 per cent.

Political watchers say Canada’s first-past-the-poll electoral system combined with often-low voter turnout can be problematic for politicians like Locke trying to take the high road over huge policy shifts such as policing in Surrey.

“You can make a claim of legitimacy, but can you make a democratic … mandate claim that this is something overwhelmingly wanted by people?” said Gerald Baier, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia.

The taxpayer

There was a win for Locke with the judicial review: a determination by Justice Kevin Loo around the finances to do with policing in Surrey, which has been hard to pin down over the last 19 months.

Loo found that there would be an incremental annual cost difference between having the Surrey Police Service (SPS) and the RCMP of between $30 to $75 million due to the SPS needing more staff. That works out to between $50 and $120 per Surrey resident, or two to five per cent of the city’s budget.

It was vindication, of sorts, for Locke. Since she was elected, she has favoured an argument that taxes would be lower if the RCMP remained in her city, rather than the potential for better policing in Surrey through the SPS.

“The majority of council have always been there to protect the taxpayer in our city and we will continue to try our best to do the best for the taxpayer of this city,” she said.

The people

A key difference on Thursday, as the key protagonists addressed the judicial review, was how they addressed residents in Surrey.

While Locke referred to them as taxpayers, the province, both Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Premier David Eby referred to them as people and tried to tap into a fatigue over the issue.

“This is obviously a huge relief for the people of Surrey who just want this done,” said Eby about the judicial review going in the province’s favour. “I want this done. Everybody wants this done.”

“The people of Surrey want this over, they want the transition moving forward and that’s what’s going to happen and it would be great if the City of Surrey was there,” said Farnworth.

A bald man in a suit speaks stands in front of a microphone and looks to his left.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth speaks with the media on Thursday May 23, 2024, after a judicial review upheld provincial legislation to have the Surrey Police Service replace the RCMP in Surrey, B.C. (CBC News)

Both spoke to escalating costs of maintaining two police forces in the city and legal costs in trying to reverse course on the transition to the SPS.

Peter German, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, advising Surrey over Locke’s bid to keep the Mounties, said there is fatigue too among the mayor and councillors, considering other challenges facing the city.

“They’re more concerned about health care, education, portable classrooms, all of those issues,” said German “They don’t want to spend all sorts of time and money in a transition that they didn’t ask for.”

Locke must now consider if her next move over policing is worthwhile to the overall well-being of her city that requires leadership on a variety of issues.

The province says the police transition will continue with Nov. 29 as the official date the SPS will replace the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction in Surrey.


Posted in CBC