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Surrey police officers in Surrey, B.C. on April 22, 2023.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

B.C.’s Solicitor-General says his director of police services has the powers needed to take over in Surrey if the city continues to block the transition from the RCMP to a new municipal force.

After the city recently refused to pay the salaries of 10 policing recruits for the Surrey Police Service, noting that the SPS had exceeded its budget, Mike Farnworth said his ministry has the tools to ensure that everyone on the new municipal force, including new hires, gets compensated.

In an interview Saturday with The Globe and Mail, the Solicitor-General called the latest move by Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke and her council a deliberate decision to undermine the transition away from the RCMP and to the SPS.

“What’s really happening is just obstructiveness,” Mr. Farnworth said. Surrey needs “to understand the law is the law.” He added that he has never seen a Canadian mayor behave the way Ms. Locke has, calling the standoff “just bizarre.”

Surrey, with an authorized strength of 759 officers, has had the biggest RCMP force in the country. The transition to the municipal force has been fraught with tension between the city and the B.C. government.

Mr. Farnworth announced in July that the province was ordering Surrey to continue with the four-year-old transition process because his ministry had determined that their plan to keep the RCMP was not workable.

“It is just symptomatic that Surrey is obstructing at every possible opportunity,” he said.

In response, Ms. Locke insists that the province doesn’t have the authority to dictate what happens with policing in Surrey and that she expects her city’s lawsuit against the province over the issue, filed in October and amended in November, will prevail.

“Why would they think we’re going to move this forward when we’re before the courts,” said Ms. Locke, who maintains that there is still no coherent plan for the basic infrastructure needed – such as an IT system and an ability to transfer files – to the new service.

She declined to say definitively what council would allocate to the service, if anything, in the coming 2024 budget.

She maintained that Mr. Farnworth has no idea about what the real problems are with a transition and that he still somehow expects “absolute obedience” from Surrey, in spite of obvious challenges with his plan.

“All of his reasons don’t hold water,” she said in an interview Saturday.

At the moment, the RCMP remain as what is called the “police of jurisdiction,” with about 200 officers from the SPS operating under their management. There has been no overt sign that the debate has affected the police’s ability to deal with crime, but many have said the continuing hostilities are damaging the public’s confidence in policing in general.

The fight over policing in Surrey has been a serial drama ever since the previous mayor, Doug McCallum, carried out his election promise of 2018 to transition to a municipal force.

Mr. McCallum’s clumsy handling of the issue after the election, along with a public opposition campaign largely funded by the RCMP union, resulted in mounting controversy over the move. He was defeated in the October, 2022 election by Ms. Locke, the only one of a field of candidates who promised to stop the transition and stick with the RCMP.

She has maintained that the SPS is far more expensive – $30-million a year more – and that the province’s promised $150-million to help with the transition doesn’t compensate for that.

Ms. Locke said she warned the SPS in August that they should stop hiring new officers and that they were going over budget.

“The SPS has gone out of their way to just hire because they want to make it more expensive to go back.”

Ms. Locke and the city’s adviser on the issue, former RCMP officer Peter German, both said the problem was that the SPS went $23-million beyond its allocated budget of $49-million for 2023.

But the Surrey Police Union says that the reason the service went beyond that is because Ms. Locke’s council voted early in 2023 to provide only enough money to run the service for half a year, expecting it wouldn’t live beyond that. (The union stepped in to provide money to pay recruits after the city said it wouldn’t.)

“When the province made its final decision, Surrey refused to adjust that budget,” said Ryan Buhrig, the SPU’s spokesperson.

Ms. Locke claims no more money was allocated for the municipal force, even after Mr. Farnworth announced in July that the province was ordering the transition to continue, because the Surrey Police Board didn’t come to council and ask for more.

But Melissa Granum, the executive director of the SPB, said it made repeated requests to that end.

“In September 2023, the Board formally communicated its financial position and budget requirements to Mayor and Council as a result of the Minister’s July decision,” she told The Globe.

“The Board produced monthly public budget reports showing that SPS was tracking to $75M and the August report was submitted to City Council as well.”

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