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Province’s Surrey police transition advisor also a director with city's trash contractor

'We never had any input on the person and we had no input on the terms of reference,' says Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke
Jessica McDonald sits on the board of GFL Environmental, which handles the garbage-hauling contract for the City of Surrey. She also serves as the province's advisor to deal with the city's ongoing transition from the RCMP to Surrey Police Service. | Chung Chow, BIV

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke calls it awkward that the provincially appointed facilitator for her city’s policing transition is also a director with the company that holds Surrey’s lucrative garbage-hauling contract.

In July, NDP Solicitor General Mike Farnworth ordered Surrey to proceed with rolling out the Surrey Police Service (SPS), despite opposition from the majority of city council that wants to keep the RCMP. Farnworth appointed former BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald as the strategic implementation advisor to deal day-to-day with the city, the municipal force and the Mounties.

In February 2022, McDonald joined the board for GFL Environmental Inc. (TSX:GFL), two months after Surrey city council voted to award the publicly traded Toronto company a seven-year, curbside residential waste collection contract beginning April 2023.

Emterra Group Inc. and Waste Connections were the other bidders. The contract is worth at least $17.6 million a year.

“This strategic advisor, we never had any input on the person and we had no input on the terms of reference,” Locke said in an interview. “If we had, I'm sure that our staff would have done a review, but we weren't brought into that loop, ever."

McDonald has not responded for comment after email and phone messages to GFL chairman and CEO Patrick Dovigi. Neither has Farnworth’s office.

Locke said she has discussed the matter with city manager Rob Costanzo, but not directly with Farnworth or McDonald.

McDonald earned $120,597 in cash fees and $190,584 in share-based awards last year from GFL, according to its 2023 information circular.

“I'm going to be talking more with our own city legal and our city manager just to make sure that all those T's are crossed and I's are dotted because we take our lobby registry in Surrey pretty seriously,” Locke said.

Despite Farnworth ordering Surrey to replace the RCMP with a municipal force, Locke said little has been done since then.

Surrey Coun. Pardeep Kooner’s Sept. 14 memo to the finance committee estimated the SPS budget had ballooned by $112 million, which would require a 26 per cent tax increase.

The Surrey Police Board countered Sept. 16, saying it had spent $45.4 million through Aug. 31 and projected it would reach $75 million by year end if it is asked not to resume hiring until 2024.

Earlier in the summer, the board projected spending $125 million to immediately resume the transition and hire, equip and train 133 police officers during 2023’s second half.

Locke said she met with Premier David Eby at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention and told him the city is in an untenable position, without a detailed plan to proceed with the Farnworth-preferred SPS.

“I needed him to know where we sat,” she said. “Certainly, besides the issue around India, our concern is money, there’s no getting away with it. I mean, when you use all the numbers that came out from Coun. Kooner, and the inability of the Surrey Police Service to give us numbers that made sense, or at least they're confusing numbers."

Locke said that, like Eby, she had been briefed on foreign interference by India, but she declined to provide details of what she learned. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed Monday that intelligence pointed to Indian government involvement in the June murder in Newton of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the Guru Nanak Sikh temple leader and Khalistan separatist.

“These challenges in Surrey are not new and the RCMP have been managing them for a very long time,” Locke said. “I have no reason or confidence that the SPS can do that. Not just for the very reason that they just haven't been in this position, they don't understand Surrey.”