Political scene in British Columbia’s second largest municipality, now populated by more than half a million people, is changed forever and never again will be a same. One of the most influential and the most popular politicians not only in the province but in Canada Mayor Dianne Watts is faced with one of her once most prominent colleagues and Councillors. Barinder Rasode, first ever East-Indian Surrey elected Councillor, resigned last week from Watts’s Surrey First Coalition and decided to sit the rest of the term as independent.
While Councillor Rasode claims that situation in Council and in the Surrey First Coalition become hostile towards her other side is responding with public statements and leaked emails. At first Councillor Linda Hepner, as Surrey First representative, and now through leaked email Mayor Watts herself. Media and public speculations are telling us that Mayor Watts could leave municipal scene and move to the federal political waters as potential Conservative candidate in South Surrey – White Rock riding. Her potential successor, if she decides to run will be found in between Councillors Hepner and Gill, but also through Barinder Rasode who is seen by many as another candidate for mayorship of Surrey.
As per Councillor Hepner and Mayor Watts, Councillor Rasode, first was not able to play the game as a team player and now she never informed Council nor Surrey First about her concerns regarding crime and spending on the new City Hall. When it comes to crime major issues are unsolved murder of hockey mom Julie Paskall late last year, recent sever attack on elder gentleman Mr. Gill in Newton park at 1 p.m., need for more than 45 police officers in Surrey and overall crime situation in the city. New City Hall, which is architectural jewel of the city, as per Kevin Diakiw of the Surrey Leader Newspaper could cost taxpayers some $150 million dollars. Although this number is disputed by the City and by the Mayor over the last few weeks as new City Hall is available to the citizens.
But let’s back to recent Council/Surrey First events.
In her email to all members of Surrey First Councillor Rasode wrote:
1. The approach taken toward public safety and fighting crime.
2. Spending at City Hall
3. Community consultation
Following the tragic death of Julie Paskall, I spoke out about the need to fulfill the commitment in our crime reduction strategy to hire more police officers, and implement additional safety measures in Newton and around our facilities. In the weeks following, I was criticized by Council both privately and publically, cut off from staff resources, removed as Chair of the Police Committee, and stopped receiving Council updates from the OIC of the Surrey RCMP.
I have overwhelmingly heard from the community that access to public information is now being restricted, including Freedom of Information requests being ignored. Major decisions, such as contracting-out community policing services, are being made behind closed doors and without any public consultation.”
Link to audio of : City of Surrey Councillor Barinder Rasode, Mayor Dianne Watts and City Manager Vince Lalonde discussing recent Craigslist ad for Commissioners/Security guards at City Council meeting on April 14, 2014.)
She did’t need to wait too long to get first taste of what she can expect over the next few month until Surrey voters decide political future of current Council members/Mayor and those who will put their names forward. Her former Surrey First colleague and senior Council member, Linda Hepner speaking hours after Rasode’s resignation said the following:
“I think this is more about ambition than it is about reality. I have great respect for Barinder, I just don’t think she works well in a team environment. I don’t know how you govern a city without being collaborative in a team environment.”
To anybody who knows anything about politics, this is clear message to the other side what they can expect during upcoming campaign, and it is not surprising that Rasode or anybody else will be targeted as someone who was not able to work under the team leadership. Councillor Rasode judging by this can expect lot of let’ say “dirty laundry” to be thrown at her feet and by those who don’t support her beside Mayor’s words that she will not engage in campaign rhetoric. The only unnecessary element in this statement was and is word “respect” because the rest of it shows clear disrespect for your political enemy or at least opponent. Team leavers are always the worst.
Tuesday morning brought in new set of accusations regarding Councillor Rasode’s forthcoming when it comes to crime and the City Hall spending. Mayor Watts in her email sent to all Councillors Surrey First members and Councillor Barinder Rasode, which was obtained by The Surrey Now Newspaper, says the following:
“First and foremost we have always encouraged open dialogue and debate in a respectful and supportive way. Secondly, at the time of Julie Paskalls (sic) death You were fully aware that there was a complete review of the RCMP deployment and resourcing underway as well as 360 review which had begun in October. That information was shared with Council by our OIC,” and adds “As Chair of the Police Committee and holder of the Public Safety Portfolio for years you never once mentioned this to the general public. Nor did you bring any of these issues of ‘concern’ to Council or to the Police Committee over those years. Not until Julie’s death and then chose to do it through the media and still to this day you have not brought this ‘issue’ forward at a Council meeting or budget meeting or the Police Committee.”
Over the span of this term public heard a lot regarding crime situation in Surrey from both Mayor and Councillor, and that is public record. If we go back to the April of 2012 we would find that City of Surrey with Councillor Rasode as representative organized series of Town Halls on which citizens of this city warned that we have significant problems with crime. Especially those in Newton. Those informations in form of minutes today are stored at the City website and they represent official document of the City of Surrey. Mayor herself and then Councillor today MLA Marvin Hunt were present at the last one in Fleetwood and spoke about all important issues, Mayor was not able to attend other Town Halls one even organized at the RCMP station on 148th and 104th due to her overseas trip.
Later that year, actually on Christmas day, 27-year-old Alok Gupta was killed at Ken’s Grocery at 11779 96 Ave., that is also time when year with record number of murders will start ending 2013 with more than 25 murders, largest number since 2005. Once again Councillor Rasode was one who spoke with media, Mayor was absent (in Hawaii) from where she gave first statement to CKNW. While Cllr. Rasode spoke with Sean Leslie on The World Today Weekend Edition, Mayor spoke with Bill Good with whom she discussed situation in Surrey, but also gave to Mr. Good and listeners great insight in crime statistics and number of guns in New York, Calgary, Winnipeg and other cities.
And here we can add murders of Ravinder Kaur Bhangu (murdered by husband), Maple Batalia (murdered by ex-boyfriend) in when either of them spoke to the public regarding needs to bring changes in. In Batalia case Councillor Rasode even spoke as representative of the family on several occasions. Thanks to Councillor Rasode and work of City staff today City of Surrey has one of the rare original City developed programs to fight domestic violence tracing its tradition in Rakhi tradition of India, started by Councillor Rasode and supported in the past by Mayor and other members of the Council.
Following murder of Julie Paskall late last year, both Mayor and Councillor faced off with author of these words on CKNW and on Global’s BC1 channel, to address these issues. And both informed public of what is going on and what is gonna be done in the future regarding crime in Surrey. Then Surrey citizens learned that Mayor is setting up her task force to fight crime in the city, slight improvements were indeed made such as bike patrols, few arrests were made and City staff did some work on improvements in the Newton Recreation Centre area.
But up to this day we don’t know who killed Julie Paskall. Mayor herself last week said that Surrey RCMP made “significant progress” and the retracted her words because we all know that only RCMP is able to release informations like that and to judge what is significant what is not. Beside that we, the public, don’t know who attacked Mr. Gill in Newton park at mid day, and almost every single day we hear or read about some sort of crime committed on Surrey streets. We also don’t know what happened at the Police Meetings because minutes are not yet available to public, but hope is there that public will access and will be able to judge what each member observed there.
From everything above it’s clear that public was well informed about recent problems with crime in this city not only over the last year but since start of this term in late 2011. If these are not to be accepted as information to the public as concerns what’s going on than question is what would be proper information to achieve standards. Maybe Mayor, Councillor Hepner or anybody else needed bit of refreshment to bring back to memory all these events and informations placed in front of them either through media or at the City meetings. While Mayor and her team are trying to stay in power and fight for the political future the best agenda would be to focus on resolution of mentioned problems above and put all personal fights behind their back. Also Councillor Rasode if she decides to run for Watts chair or her chair in Council needs to focus on presentation of what she will offer to the citizens and how she sees the future. Surrey has more serious problems than personal relations between once political allies and friends today potential opponents in November. More work, less talk.