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Mr. McCallum insists his coalition will survive.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about civic affairs.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is having a tough summer. Since May, three councillors who ran with him under the Safe Surrey Coalition banner last election have broken ranks to sit as independents. This leaves him with a majority of only one.

While reasons given by the three dissidents for jumping ship vary slightly, all complain about Mr. McCallum’s iron-fisted leadership style. They accuse him of refusing to consult and squelching opposing views simply because he is hellbent on delivering a SkyTrain line to Langley and an independent police force, regardless of cost or public opinion.

To some extent, they are right. Mr. McCallum campaigned on those two big promises and says he intends to deliver. The three councillors who left broke ranks over the police transition plan, which shows moving to a municipal force will cost the city more money for fewer officers. They want the city to reconsider, at least until more public consultation is done.

Mr. McCallum is adamant full consultation was done and found overwhelming – 93 per cent – support for the plan. The dissidents don’t trust the survey methodology. Mr. McCallum says all three breakaway councillors campaigned on the municipal police force promise and once elected, “chose to criticize it.”

It is possible the coalition was only ever a marriage of convenience, destined to fracture. Since they broke from the coalition, Jack Hundial and Brenda Locke have been acting in concert with Linda Annis, the only councillor elected from Surrey First, the previous ruling party. They attend events together, pose for photos arm in arm and constantly retweet each other’s tweets.

Surrey First, a broad coalition party formed by former mayor Dianne Watts just more than a decade ago, splintered before the last election and it was obvious the party’s dominant run was over. Mr. McCallum was a veteran Surrey politician, a former mayor with big name recognition. The dissidents, who include Councillor Steven Pettigrew, realized this and threw their lot in with Mr. McCallum, knowing it was their best shot at a win.

Mr. Hundial acknowledges he began his campaign as an independent, but says he was comfortable with the Safe Surrey platform until the policing transition report was released. When he saw the cost estimates, he says he and many others began to question the plan. Mr. Hundial says the mayor is uninterested in consultation and brooks no opposition.

After the three councillors split, he dissolved a public safety committee that all councillors sat on and replaced it with a transition team of the five remaining Safe Surrey council members, Mr. Hundial says. Mr. McCallum says he wasn’t about to put non-supporters on a committee making decisions about how to form a new police force.

Given how quickly the coalition started to unravel, you might think a little mayoral soul searching would be in order. But Mr. McCallum takes no ownership for the rift. He claims his door is always open and that the disgruntled councillors have not come to see him, at least not since the split. He gets heated talking about the problems and it’s obvious he feels betrayed.

But Mr. McCallum would be foolish not to expect questions about policing costs and recent revelations that the money allocated for transit improvement in Surrey is only enough to take his SkyTrain line part way to Langley. To complete the $3.1-billion line, Mr. McCallum will have to squeeze more money out of higher levels of government. Similarly, to form an independent police force, he needs permission from the provincial government, which is now studying the transition report. And if members of his own coalition members are questioning the numbers, you can bet the province will, too.

Mr. McCallum insists his coalition will survive. He says he believes the four remaining Safe Surrey council members will remain loyal. But it’s obvious he’s feeling heat from the defections. It’s never a good sign when media scrums become focused on council chaos.

Instead of blaming the people around him, Mr. McCallum might want to take a little time for some self-reflection. If his coalition was weak from the beginning, it was his job to build consensus. On that front he is failing.

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