Duelling rallies descend on Surrey City Hall before vote on controversial budget

Protesters gather to oppose a hiring freeze for police and fire.

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Hundreds gathered outside Surrey City Hall in advance of a vote on a budget that would put a hiring freeze on Mounties and firefighters, instead spending $129 million on a new police force.

Rallies both for and against the proposed budget were held in the lead up to Monday’s council meeting.

Anita Huberman, Chief Executive Officer of the Surrey Board of Trade, rallied the crowd gathered in opposition.

“Ladies and Gentlemen. I want you to answer the following questions: Do you want business taxes to increase in Surrey? Do you want investments in a new police force that isn’t approved? Do we want more investments in City of Surrey staff? Do you want more arts and culture in Surrey? Do you want Surrey to be an opportunity city?”

Huberman says the business community opposes the budget because it is set to increase taxes by 5.5 per cent.

A group of seniors also gathered to oppose the budget, their main concern being the amount allocated to a new police force and the corresponding hiring freeze on hiring new RCMP officers.

Meantime, a crowd gathered inside saying they were there to support the mayor and his vision for a municipal police force.

Mayor Doug McCallum has dismissed the opposition to his proposed budget, describing it as “one of the best” he’s seen in all his years as mayor.

He has said the RCMP and fire department have told him they can “get by” with current staffing levels.

The majority on council belongs to McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition.

Some on council have remained fiercely opposed to the mayor, disagreement over the transition to a municipal police force has been a flashpoint for conflict.

Coun. Brenda Locke intends to table a motion resetting the transition process, which she has described as being deeply flawed and rushed through.

“This is probably the most significant thing we will do in a generation in terms of public safety in Surrey. So I think doing it right is more important than doing it fast. And so that was my suggestion, that we stop,” she said.

Locke also suspects the nine-figure sum set aside for the transition will be far less than what it ends up costing taxpayers.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald has said publicly that the hiring freeze will have a “detrimental effect.”

McDonald noted that calls for service have been increasing, and with no new officers this year or next, staff will have to be shifted away from important community-based crime prevention efforts.

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