Surrey city hall hired a veteran federal and BC Liberal insider for $20,000 to lobby the NDP government to keep the RCMP in Surrey.
The contract with Mark Marissen of Burrard Strategy Inc., obtained via freedom of information, set the rate at $10,000 per month, from Jan. 5 to March 5. Marissen’s hourly rate was censored from the copy released by Surrey city hall.
“Anytime taxpayers are paying for lobbyists to lobby the government, it's a slap in the face,” said Carson Binda, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “Folks are having to tighten their belts right now and for insiders and lobbyists to be getting fat paycheques while the rest of us are struggling is unacceptable.”
The contract, signed by Donna Jones, Surrey’s general manager of investment and intergovernmental relations, said Marissen was expected to “reach out to relevant and influential senior officials at the province to provide briefing information and to advocate for the retention of the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction in Surrey.”
Marissen’s orders included reviewing and understanding the history of the halted police transition and the solicitor general’s authority over policing in the province, creating an outreach plan and fact sheet to be used as the basis for discussions and advocacy, and providing timely feedback to the city.
On the surface, Marissen’s contract raises eyebrows because of his past campaigning against the NDP, especially because his political collaborator and ex-wife is former BC Liberal premier Christy Clark. But Marissen has a long acquaintance with one of the most powerful officials in Premier David Eby’s office.
The Lobbyist Registry contains one activity entry for a communication on Jan. 10 with Shannon Salter, Eby’s deputy minister, cabinet secretary and head of the public service. In 2005, when Paul Martin was Prime Minister, Marissen was the campaign director for the Liberal Party of Canada in B.C. and Salter was in charge of communications.
Surrey city hall isn’t alone in spending on a lobbyist. The Surrey Police Union hired NDP-aligned labour lawyer Sebastien Anderson of Coquitlam in late February to plead its case. Anderson has so far arranged two meetings for his client with Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and NDP MLAs from Surrey and neighbouring Coquitlam and New Westminster.
Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke defeated Doug McCallum in last October’s election on a promise to keep the RCMP and wind down the SPS. The leader of the Surrey Connect majority originally supported a new municipal force before quitting McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition caucus in mid-2019.
Farnworth had promised to answer the Surrey policing question in mid-January, but delayed the decision due to what he said were gaps in the proposals from City of Surrey, RCMP and SPS.
Locke did not respond for comment. In January, she estimated finishing the cop swap would cost taxpayers another $235 million. During a rare Saturday news conference on Feb. 18, she announced a 17.5-per-cent tax hike for 2023. After receiving nearly $90 million from the province under a temporary municipal subsidy program, city council asked staff to revise the budget by April 3 with a tax increase of no more than 12.5 per cent.
When a reporter originally asked in January for the value of Marissen’s contract, Locke let her two communications staffers, Oliver Lum and Amy Jugpal, send the query and an interview request to the freedom of information office, which demanded payment of the $10 FOI application fee that McCallum imposed in February 2022.
The documents were eventually provided this month, but not the interview.
"Democracy dies in darkness and charging taxpayers to access public records is throwing democracy into a black hole,” said Binda. “Those public records should be publicly viewable. Everyone should get to see them and for government to be throwing pay walls and barriers in the way, it's unacceptable.”
Locke’s election platform included a promise to eliminate $10 FOI application fee.
“The Surrey Connect team sees the fee as a barrier for the public. By eliminating the fee, residents will see we are serious about transparency and good government,” said the news release Locke issued on International Right to Know Day last Sept. 28.
Marissen finished fourth in the Vancouver mayoral election last October. His Progress Vancouver party’s Elections BC return disclosed receiving a prohibited $50,000 loan. He continues soliciting funds in order to repay the lender, businessman Jason McLean.
This story has been updated to reflect that it was the Surrey Police Union, and not the Surrey Police Service, that hired an NDP-aligned labour lawyer in February. We regret the error.