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Surrey political party calls for recall legislation at civic level

Political rivals question the motive, charging the slate is seeking to ‘weaponize’ recall legislation
Surrey City Hall. (File photo: Anna Burns)

It’s not every day you see a civic slate calling for legislation enabling the recall of council members but that’s what the Safe Surrey Coalition is doing.

Some political rivals are questioning the motive.

The SSC issued a press release Wednesday morning to announce it’s calling on B.C. Minister of Municipal Affairs Anne Kang to introduce such legislation, “inspired by Alberta’s model.

“We’ve seen the need for such legislation in the face of governance challenges in Surrey and other jurisdictions,” SSC Coun. Doug Elford stated in the press release.

“Recall legislation would empower citizens and ensure elected officials are fiscally responsible and keep property taxes affordable. Mayor Brenda Locke campaigned for this, but her leadership has been called into question due to ongoing issues at Surrey City Hall.”

The SSC suggests a recall threshold of 50 per cent of the total votes cast for an official. “This isn’t just about Surrey,” Coun. Mandeep Nagra stated in the press release. “It’s about ensuring all municipal leaders in B.C. are accountable to their constituents.”

Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum, who was defeated by Locke in the 2022 civic election, is also quoted in the press release.

“Mayor Locke’s refusal to adequately fund the police service, her spending on partisan political advertisements with taxpayer dollars, and her reckless decisions leading to increased property taxes are exactly why we need recall legislation. Residents deserve the right to hold their leaders accountable,” McCallum said.

Locke dismissed this as “just a distraction by them. I think the real issue is they don’t like our position on the police transition.

“Certainly lots and lots of people talked about it (a recall mechanism) under McCallum’s administration,” she recalled. “To me this is just another one of their silly little distractions.”

Surrey Connect Coun. Harry Bains noted there’s a lot of arguments for and against recall legislation. “One of the arguments against it is always that it’s going to be weaponized and I feel that’s what’s happening here, that can be used as a weapon against elected officials. As elected officials, sometimes we have to make unpopular choices, we have to make choices that are hard, we have to be the adults in the room and we have to do so for the good of the city.”

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Bains said the use of recall legislation to attack politicians might in the long run make it impossible for elected officials to make the right decisions because they might be unpopular. “That’s a huge concern when you’re an elected official and your sole duty is to take care of the city and represent the city that you’re elected in.”

Coun. Linda Annis, of Surrey First, said she’s surprised there isn’t already recall legislation for civic elected officials other than if they are criminally convicted. “To me, it should be aligned with what we do provincially and federally,” she said. “You know, if we’re not doing our job and the people aren’t happy there should be a process in place. They shouldn’t have to wait four years to voice their opinion. I think it’s just good practice for any elected official anywhere – we need to be held accountable.”

Coun. Gordon Hepner, of Surrey Connect, said he’s not against legislation for recall but said when it’s used to try to change the political direction of a politician through legislation, “that’s not democracy…that’s just a weapon in order to get the way thatthey see fit, not that the public saw during the time at the ballot box.

“That’s politicking and weaponizing legislation,” Hepner added. “We are a democracy. I am sure that there are many people inSurrey that thought that would have been handy in McCallum’s time in office.” He added it might have “in fact come in handywith all the chaos around McCallum.”

Locke echoed that, charging that the SSC’s “mismanagement, their lack of financial accountability,” is the reason why the city isin the position it is today “and they’re saying that somehow we should be the one to take the hit for their mismanagement fromthe beginning. It’s truly the pot calling the kettle black, I can’t think of a truer description of this.

“This is pretty rich, pretty rich on their part.”

Coun. Rob Stutt, also of Surrey Connect, doesn’t think the SSC’s request to Kang meets the criteria of a public interest in this case. “In this particular case I guess we have to get back to the elephant in the room. In this particular case the reason that we’re in the situation that we’re in is because of the Safe Surrey Coalition’s poor decision-making.”

“I would suggest that their attempt to influence Minister Kang has nothing to do with the genuine interest of having recall legislation at the municipal level,” Stutt said. “If there was provision for recall of municipal officials there’s a strong likelihood that mayor McCallum would not have finished his term. I’m thinking careful what you wish for, because if that legislation had’ve been in effect as long as it has been for the other levels of government, he probably wouldn’t have survived his term.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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