Surrey city council commenced a new year just as it left its last – amid controversy.
Monday night, Coun. Jack Hundial asked staff to provide more information on why a local developer who is a close friend and campaign donor of Mayor Doug McCallum, had apparently met with Solicitor General Mike Farnworth last year, shortly after the October 20 election.
Hundial said he was recently made aware that Farnworth’s calendar for November 2, 2018, notes a meeting with mayor-elect McCallum, developer Bob Cheema and “chief of staff Donna” (confirmed by the ministry to be Donna Jones). The topic of the meeting was “traffic fine revenue sharing.”
On Tuesday Farnworth’s office told Glacier Media that the minister did not meet with Cheema.
“Mr. Cheema’s name was referenced in the calendar as he was the one who reached out to book the meeting during the interim period that Mr. McCallum was mayor-elect,” stated a spokesperson.
Hundial is among three councillors who left McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition slate this year, citing broad concerns about transparency over a proposed police force transition from the RCMP to a municipal force.
Cheema was a major financier of McCallum’s failed 2014 campaign and appeared to play a significant role for McCallum in 2018, as the mayor thanked him for his support and friendship during one of his first public addresses.
Cheema is suing former Surrey city council candidate Brian Young for defamation after Young took to Twitter last spring, labelling Cheema as “#BackroomBob” and claiming Cheema and McCallum already have a “hand-picked” police chief for the new force. It’s understood by Hundial that Cheema has no official capacity with the city and as such was a civilian.
After Monday’s council meeting, McCallum left via a back door and did not address media. During the meeting he claimed Hundial didn’t have his facts right and that he would later clarify the nature of the meeting with Farnworth. Hundial has asked for meeting notes and also inquired about whether Cheema may have attended other meetings to discuss city policies.
A day prior to the November 2 meeting Farnworth had staff meetings to discuss Surrey’s police force.
Since being sworn in McCallum has cancelled the public safety committee and issued a police transition report in consultation with the Vancouver Police Department. Hundial and councillors Brenda Locke and Steven Pettigrew left McCallum’s political umbrella this year, forming a four-person block with Coun. Linda Annis.
In August, Farnworth took control of the police transition process by forming a joint transition committee to be chaired by former Attorney General Wally Oppal.
The police issue remains at the top of civic discourse in Surrey. Prior to Monday’s council meeting local residents organizing a petition to keep the RCMP gathered at city hall. Ivan Scott led the small protest, claiming his group (Keep RCMP in Surrey) has close to 25,000 signatures. He said there should be public consultation and a referendum, despite McCallum’s opposition. The election, McCallum said, was the referendum and consultation.
The 45-minute council meeting ended with resident Debi Johnstone demanding the reinstatement of the public safety committee, which is supposed to brief council on monthly crime stats, events and policing measures.
The Farnworth meeting is not the only matter McCallum did not explain in full on Monday.
McCallum boots “one of the best” Metro Vancouver board members
After Hundial’s motion, McCallum announced one of his own – to remove Pettigrew from the Metro Vancouver board of directors.
McCallum’s coalition of five voted in favour of replacing environmentalist Pettigrew with Coun. Allison Patton, a member of the Safe Surrey Coalition.
Pettigrew said he was not briefed by McCallum ahead of the motion and asked whether there was a performance issue. McCallum offered no explanation.
Coun. Laurie Guerra said Tuesday she voted to remove Pettigrew because she had heard “a number of complaints” of Pettigrew’s work from other board members. She did not elaborate as to who complained.
“For me I trusted the mayor’s decision to remove him. There’s not anything more than that,” said Guerra.
Coun. Doug Elford said the decision was based on “trust” and “politics.” He said the coalition has issues of trust with Pettigrew after he left the fold. He did not cite performance issues.
One of B.C.’s longest-standing municipal councillors, Richmond’s Harold Steves, sat next to Pettigrew on Metro’s climate action committee.
‘He was one of the best members of the board as I am concerned,” said Steves Tuesday.
Glacier Media reached out to McCallum and Metro Vancouver’s board chair Sav Dhaliwal to ask about the nature of any possible complaints against Pettigrew.
Hundial said on Twitter following Monday’s meeting: “There was no reason to remove Cllr Pettigrew. He is always accurate in his research and true to his convictions. I think the plan all along was one at a time.”
Locke called the removal “mean spirited.”
Surrey is allotted six board members at Metro Vancouver. A board member earns about $400 for a meeting up to four hours and about $800 for any meeting over four hours. A typical salary is about $17,000 per year.