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Details of Surrey's $500K 'NDP police tax' ad campaign revealed

Regardless of whether one favours the RCMP or Surrey Police Service, the ongoing saga is a "boondoggle," says Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Last month, retired Abbotsford Police chief Mike Serr proposed a $142-million budget for the Surrey Police Service in 2024. Photo: Surrey Police Service

City of Surrey hired a Vancouver agency populated with veterans of BC Liberal Party campaigns to help it oppose the NDP government’s imposition of the Surrey Police Service (SPS). 

The ad campaign, through Kirk and Co. Consulting, says replacing the RCMP will cost Surrey taxpayers an extra $464 million over the next 10 years, resulting in a “massive double-digit tax increase” and less money for schools, health care and transit.

Mayor Brenda Locke said in December that Surrey was spending $500,000 on the campaign. Documents obtained via freedom of information show city manager Rob Costanzo signed the contract Nov. 22 with Kirk and Co. for “consulting services media relations.” 

The contract calls for Kirk and Co. to be paid at least $100,000 for consulting and management fees. Line items for spending on radio, TV, digital and outdoor ads and household mailers are all censored, because City of Surrey believes it would harm third-party business interests and the city’s negotiating position.

A request to interview Locke was not fulfilled. Peter German, an advisor on policing to Surrey, said he could not comment on the Kirk and Co. contract. 

“Yes, an ad campaign costs money, yes, lawyers cost money, yes, an advisor costs money,” German said. “But, in the big scheme of things, it's small by comparison to the cost to taxpayers if this transition continues.”

The scope of work appendix said the program goals are to “build trust and confidence that the mayor and council are acting in the public interest and enhance community understanding and support for council's decision to maintain the RCMP in Surrey.”

The first of two program objectives was censored due to solicitor/client privilege. The other objective is to build public awareness about the cost and tax implications of the province’s decision to order the SPS replace the RCMP detachment and publicize “the failure of Surrey Police Board to build the SPS in a responsible, collaborative and transparent manner for the citizens of Surrey.”

Details of how Surrey officials chose Kirk and Co. and set the budget are secret. A corporate report to an Oct. 12 closed-door city council meeting was fully blacked-out. Surrey’s freedom of information office said the report contains information about legal advice, policy advice or recommendations and local public body confidences. It also claims disclosure could harm intergovernmental relations.

City of Surrey also released invoices from Oct. 31 to Dec. 15 totalling $172,000, including: $89,134.50 for Kirk and Co., $27,168.75 for Hemlock printing and mailing, $21,821.72 for Pattison Outdoor, $13,545 for a Leger poll and $11,928 for StackAdapt online ads. 

Carson Binda, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said, regardless of whether one favours the RCMP or SPS, the ongoing saga is a “boondoggle.” Binda said Locke could have found ways to save money instead of wage an expensive public relations battle.

“From day one, this whole thing has been a colossal waste of money for Surrey taxpayers, which has added to the unprecedentedly large tax hikes that Surrey taxpayers have seen over the past two years,” Binda said. 

Nineteen Kirk and Co. personnel are listed in the contract, including executive chair Judy Kirk, chief strategy officer Mike McDonald and vice-president Sam Oliphant. 

McDonald is, coincidentally, the ex-husband of Jessica McDonald, who NDP Solicitor General Mike Farnworth hired last summer on a $500,000, two-year contract to facilitate the police transition. 

Mike McDonald was Christy Clark’s first and last chief of staff when she was the BC Liberal premier between 2011 and 2017. Evidence from the 2018 breach of trust sentencing for BC Liberal operative Brian Bonney included some of his activities while overseeing the party’s re-election campaign in July 2012. Specifically, McDonald directed a group of party workers to pose as average CKNW AM 980 listeners and call an open line talk show in order to promote Clark’s economic management and criticize the media for being “consistently negative” and not focusing on then-NDP leader Adrian Dix.

The NDP government pledged last July to pay Surrey $150 million over five years if it switched to the SPS. Locke and her Surrey Connect majority stuck to their 2022 campaign promise to keep the RCMP, so the NDP majority amended the Police Act in October to accelerate the SPS replacement of the RCMP. City of Surrey applied to B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial review, aimed at overturning the province’s decision. 

In November, Farnworth replaced the Surrey Police Board with a single administrator, retired Abbotsford Police chief Mike Serr. Last month, Serr proposed a $142-million budget for the SPS in 2024.