Six-month suspension of investigations until election day, October 15 among proposed changes returning to council tonight: Councillor Linda Annis
Surrey, B.C. (April 11, 2022): Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis says proposed changes to the way investigations are conducted by the city’s ethics commissioner interfere with the commissioner’s work and will lead to less transparency. The changes are set to be considered by Surrey councillors tonight after being put on hold earlier this year.
Key among the changes, Surrey ethics commissioner Reece Harding would be prevented from accepting any new complaints starting Wednesday, April 12 – a full six months before the October municipal election. “Six months is far too long, compared to much shorter pre-election investigation suspensions seen in other jurisdictions. No new issues could be investigated until late in 2022,” said Annis. “The idea that anyone on council would turn a blind eye to ethics complaints for the next six months is stunning and shows a complete lack of respect for Surrey residents. The commissioner needs independence to do his job all year, even in the months leading up to an election.”
Another proposed change would prevent the commissioner from accessing minutes from closed council meetings as part of an investigation. “This is a clear threat to transparency by preventing potentially important information from being included,” Annis explained. “Councillors wouldn’t be accountable for anything said in closed council.” Other changes include removing conflicts of interest involving mayor or councillors, and their families, friends and businesses.
“Frankly, these changes look and feel like politicians are trying to avoid any kind of transparency prior to election day,” said Annis. “When our ethics commissioner was first created, we were quite proud that we had put the office in place. Now, it feels as though we are simply chipping away at the office that is there to protect the taxpayers of Surrey while holding the mayor and council accountable for their behaviour.
“Any changes to the office of the ethics commissioner should always be about creating an environment where we expect the highest standards from our elected representatives. Unfortunately, that’s not what is happening here, and as a result I will not be supporting this report or the changes being proposed to the office and ethics investigations.”