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HomeMiscellanyOpinion: When the personal intersects with the political, the public has the right to know

Opinion: When the personal intersects with the political, the public has the right to know

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Bob Mackin

What is the status of Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s relationship with Coun. Allison Patton?

Are they merely members of the majority caucus on Surrey city council? Or is there more to it?

Why have credible sources, who fear retribution, told me they have witnessed McCallum and Patton entering or exiting their respective residences together?

Coun. Allison Patton (left) and Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum.

Why are photographs of the two council members at non-council events circulating on social media?

I have diligently sought comment from McCallum and Patton since January. Neither McCallum nor Patton have replied to my repeated phone calls and emails.

If there was no story to be told, a denial would have been simple to deliver and you would not be reading this right now.

The April 16 answer from the Surrey mayor’s office spokesman, Oliver Lum, was the same that he provided me on Jan. 21: “The personal affairs of the Mayor is outside the scope of this office.”

When a question is about the reputation of the Mayor of the second-biggest city in B.C. — and one of the fastest-growing in Canada — it most certainly is in the scope of his office to answer.

McCallum and Patton were elected on the Safe Surrey Coalition slate in 2018; SSC has a slim one vote majority on council, after councillors Jack Hundial, Steven Pettigrew and Brenda Locke defected over policy disputes.

McCallum led SSC to victory in 2018 with expensive promises to replace the RCMP with a municipal police force and to cancel light rail in favour of extending SkyTrain to Langley. McCallum ultimately controls a $1.44 billion civic budget which will no doubt be revised. There is a province-wide state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. The men, women and children who live, work, study and/or play in Surrey have a right to know whether the politicians that run their city are there for them at a time of great need.

It is also a time at which city council has raised the bar. Earlier this month, city council passed a new Council Code of Conduct bylaw. It includes clauses that say a council member shall rigorously avoid situations which may result in claims of pecuniary interest, conflict of interest or bias, and that a council member must disclose any conflict of interest and refrain from participating in a meeting.

Allison Patton (left) and Doug McCallum (Twitter)

Patton had lived in White Rock when she was elected, but bought a $535,000 condo in Rosemary Heights last December. McCallum sometimes lives at a $1.348 million Crescent Beach house.

Were they honest to voters about their relationship during the fall 2018 election? Why are they not being transparent now?

Despite what the city hall spokesman says, questions about personal affairs are public interest when they potentially involve a mayor and a councillor carrying on extra-curricular activities of any sort together. The public has a right to question whether a personal relationship, if it does exist, may affect voting and the paramount duty to the public of their elected officials.

It was relevant when I covered city council in Richmond in the 1990s. Greg Halsey-Brandt became mayor in 1990 with Sue Halsey-Brandt as his wife. He left office in 2001 with Evelina Halsey-Brandt as his wife. (The mayor even wed the former Evelina Vaupotic at a civic building, the Minoru Chapel.) For several years, Mayor Halsey-Brandt presided over a city council on which his ex-wife and his new wife were both councillors.

It was also relevant when Mayor Gregor Robertson left his longtime wife and biggest political supporter Amy in 2014 to begin a relationship with youthful Chinese pop singer Wanting Qu. That lasted until mid-2017. Along the way, we learned that Qu’s mother, Harbin, China planning official Qu Zhang Mingjie, had been arrested in Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption power struggle. Robertson was never transparent about his relationship and his chief of staff had actually used his influence on reporters from the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail to suppress the information about the breakup. 

Wanting Qu (left) and Gregor Robertson

Robertson’s marital breakdown came the year after foster son Jinagh Navas Rivas was sentenced to four years in jail for being part of a dial-a-dope gang. The night in 2011 when Robertson won re-election as mayor (and kept his role as police board chair), he publicly wished Navas Rivas happy birthday in front of cheering Vision Vancouver supporters. As court eventually heard, Navas Rivas had helped get a gun into the hands of an undercover cop on the eve of the election.

It was also relevant when Gordon Wilson was the BC Liberal opposition leader after the 1991 election and he had an affair with a younger caucus mate, Judi Tyabji. That led to Wilson’s eventual replacement with Gordon Campbell, whose own career was almost derailed by a boozy night in Maui the year after he became premier.

Personal relationships of politicians have frequently crossed the line into the realm of public interest and become legendary. We can’t forget Pierre and Margaret Trudeau’s 1977 separation after Maggie partied with the Rolling Stones or Bill Clinton’s 1998 affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Remember “that woman” that he said he never had “sexual relations” with?

“It’s too easy to say, ‘well we don’t want to go down the pathway of the U.K., we don’t want to go down the pathway of the U.S.’,” Sean Holman, professor of journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary, told me in 2014, when I analyzed Robertson’s marriage breakdown. “But we also have to ask what not going down the pathway costs us, because there is a cost and the cost is that some things that should be reported on, may end up unreported.”

So, Mayor McCallum and Coun. Patton, am I on the right pathway or the wrong pathway?

Will you please explain?

The citizens of Surrey that rely upon you — the citizens that pay your bills — have a right to know.

I will gladly publish your response.

You know how to reach me. I am waiting.

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