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Rob Shaw: Locke's 'Simpsons' strategy works as NDP caves on Surrey policing funds

Cash for co-operation? NDP government offers millions of dollars more to mayor to end Surrey police stalemate
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke has been fighting the B.C. NDP government on the city's transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force.

There’s a classic Simpsons episode where Homer discovers he’s so good at getting punched in the face that he can win any boxing match just by standing in the ring and absorbing the blows of his opponents until they collapse from exhaustion.

That is, essentially, the strategy Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke has deployed against the BC NDP government on the Surrey policing file the past year. And surprisingly, it seems to have worked.

The mayor has stubbornly refused to flinch as New Democrats danced like a political butterfly and stung like a legislative bee, passing new Surrey police laws, firing her police board, installing their own administrator, threatening her council with letters and financial penalties, and more.

Outmanoeuvred and outgunned, she’s taken everything the NDP has thrown at her.

A clearly frustrated Premier David Eby threw in the towel last week, offering Locke additional cash if she’d stop holding up the B.C. government-ordered transition from the Surrey RCMP to a new municipal police service.

It was a complete capitulation of his October position that “there is no more money” for Surrey.

“The people of Surrey are sick and tired of the back and forth about policing in their community,” Eby said Thursday.

“All they want, is when they call 911 the police are going to show up, they're gonna deal with the bad guy, and we're all going to move on.”

The NDP would desperately love to “move on” from this issue as the October provincial election gets closer.

The party holds seven of nine ridings in Surrey, but doesn’t really have a clue if it’s on the right side of the policing issue in the minds of local voters. Four cabinet ministers are twisting in the wind. A new 10th riding, located in Surrey’s downtown core, is up for grabs.

The longer this continues, the weaker the NDP is getting.

That was evident this past week when the government executed the truly bizarre rollout of the new Surrey offer, which involved Solicitor General Mike Farnworth storming off when pressed for basic details by reporters, the NDP’s political opponents leaking the purported $110 million compensation amount, and then the premier trying to deny he’d offered that amount of money at all (while refusing to provide an actual figure).

It was a mess. The once-mighty NDP government, which held all the cards at one point in the battle against Locke, was reduced to running away from questions and parsing half-truths.

“How can we address the issue of implementing the Surrey police and move on?” Eby said.

“I look forward to having more to share about those discussions. Right now, the City of Surrey is considering their next steps. And I'm very hopeful that we're going to be able to move past this.”

Locke has said council will vote on whether to take the new deal. Whatever it is, it’s on top of the $150 million the province has already pitched in on the Surrey police transition.

Maybe the mayor and her majority accept the funding and, in the words of the premier, “move on.” Maybe they don’t, and try to sweat the NDP for the full $464 million they say the police transition will cost.

But whatever the outcome, the final settlement of the long-running policing drama is going to be on Locke’s terms. She’s taken every haymaker Eby, Farnworth and the government have thrown at her the past few months. The NDP has no gas in the tank left for the fight. The mayor, through sheer stubbornness, for better or for worse, is the last person standing.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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