Surrey council’s turbulent air could be cleared by new ethics commissioner: Coun. Hundial

Hundial expressed concern over the possibility Mayor Doug McCallum and Coun. Allison Patton have a business relationship outside of city council

As the City of Surrey embarks on hiring a new ethics commissioner, city councillor Jack Hundial says he wants full disclosure of an apparent business relationship between Mayor Doug McCallum and fellow councillor Allison Patton.

“Transparency. I want to see transparency. People have asked and have the right to know if there is a business relationship between elected officials,” said Hundial, who’s long pushed for an ethics commissioner for city business.

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Patton and McCallum have declined to speak to media, including Glacier Media, about the apparent business relationship identified in a video reported by the Vancouver Sun.

The video shows McCallum and Patton speaking to RCMP officers along with Patton’s former naturopath clinic partner Galina Bogatch during a dispute outside their now former workplace Mountainview Wellness Centre on April 30.

The business dispute turned out to be minor and civil in nature that did not require any further police action, according to RCMP.

However, in the video, McCallum states, “We just signed a lease here,” referring to himself and Patton, who has parted ways with Bogatch and a third naturopath Caleb Ng, who is Patton’s husband.

Ng has announced online he’s started his own naturopath business in the same strip mall, Semiahmoo Town Centre.

It’s unclear the extent of the relationship Patton and McCallum have; however, it is apparent they have a relationship beyond city council, as shown during an online meeting Patton was part of on May 1 with the White Rock Chamber of Commerce. Then, McCallum spoke briefly with Patton during her video meeting inside Patton’s office that evening. In both videos, the two do not appear to be socially distanced from each other.

Hundial said personal relationships are generally not anyone’s business; however, one between council members, and certainly a business relationship, would be more relevant for disclosure at council level in the public interest.

“I think when you reach a certain level as a public figure, people need to have confidence in the decision-making process. Any level of transparency we can provide with any relationship is a good thing,” said Hundial.

City council recently passed a code of conduct and is hiring an ethics commissioner who will handle ethical matters, such as conflicts of interest, within city hall based largely on that code.

According to the code, passed May 4, “a Council Member shall rigorously avoid situations which may result in claims of pecuniary interest, conflict of interest or bias.”

The most apparent question related to the McCallum-Patton relationship for Hundial is McCallum’s appointment of Patton last September to the Metro Vancouver board and the dismissal of Coun. Steven Pettigrew from it. 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. McCallum provided no reason for the swap, despite no complaints about Pettigrew reported by board chair Sav Dhaliwal and positive assessments of Pettigrew’s performance from other board members at the time. 

Hundial said he also questions McCallum and Patton making decisions in-camera together. The code states, “A Council Member who engages in another profession, business or occupation concurrently with holding office shall not allow such outside employment to affect the Council Member’s integrity, independence or competence.”

The commissioner is soon to be chosen by a selection committee. On the committee are Couns. Doug Elford and Laurie Guerra, who are members of the Safe Surrey Coalition with McCallum, and three residents: Myung Lee, Aronjit Lageri and Raj Gill.

Lawyer Peter Johnson of Stewart McDannold Stuart Barrister and Solicitors has been appointed a non-voting member and interim ethics commissioner to oversee the process. Johnson did not respond to an interview request.

The commissioner position is newly created for an initial term of two years; however, council may revoke the appointment by resolution at any time, meaning a simple majority can axe the $200,000 job.

An ethics commissioner could also look into the conduct of a council member.

Hundial said another red flag from the video at Patton’s naturopath clinic is an interaction McCallum has with Bogatch. Another video clip, as reported by the Sun, begins with Bogatch in the middle of a discussion with McCallum, asking him something about “threatening me with immigration?”

Although the video — taken by someone in Bogatch’s party — is incomplete, Bogatch alleged to the Sun she was responding to what she called a “shocking” comment from McCallum about her immigration status.

“I am as much a citizen of Canada as you are,” said Bogatch, who is from Ukraine, in the video.

McCallum then replies to her, “Well that’s fine, then you don’t have anything to worry about.”

Hundial said those comments are unbecoming of a mayor and anyone who would be positioned as chair of a new local police board.

“We’re a community of immigrants. If this is the behaviour you’re seeing now, imagine when there’s a police board struck up and this person is chair. That should be concerning,” said Hundial.

McCallum has not publicly denied Bogatch’s allegations nor the comments shown on the video.

This is also not Patton’s first encounter with ethical questions surrounding her 18-month tenure on council. In February the College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. fined her $500 and suspended her practice for three days for campaigning in 2018 as a "community physician."

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