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Province denies Surrey policing transition contractor in conflict of interest, reveals contract value

Former BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald has been hired to facilitate the transition from the Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service
Surrey’s pro-RCMP Mayor Brenda Locke said the city had no input on the person selected to oversee the city's police transition, nor the position's terms of reference

Taxpayers are spending up to half-a-million dollars on the former BC Hydro CEO hired to facilitate the transition from the Surrey RCMP to the Surrey Police Service. 

A statement sent by Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General communications director David Haslam said Jessica McDonald’s maximum $500,000, two-year contract covers her fees and expenses. 

The contract began July 24, five days after NDP Solicitor General Mike Farnworth ordered the City of Surrey to proceed with the controversial “cop swap.” 

In an interview last month, Surrey’s pro-RCMP Mayor Brenda Locke called the appointment “awkward,” because McDonald is also a 2022-appointed director on the board of major City of Surrey contractor GFL Environmental Inc. (TSX:GFL).

The Toronto company began a seven-year, residential garbage hauling contract last April worth at least $17.6 million annually. Locke said in an interview on Sept. 21 that city hall lawyers were looking at McDonald’s potential conflict of interest, including whether McDonald should register as a lobbyist. 

“This strategic adviser, we never had any input on the person and we had no input on the terms of reference,” Locke said at the time. “If we had, I'm sure that our staff would have done a review.”

Rather than returning a reporter’s phone and email messages last week, McDonald contacted the ministry. On Oct. 6, Haslam sent a prepared statement that denied McDonald influenced Farnworth’s decision and said her role on the GFL board has no impact on the Surrey transition.

“The City of Surrey has reviewed the issues raised in your article of Sept. 21,” according to the ministry. “Following legal review, city staff have communicated that it is their view that acting both as strategic implementation advisor on the Surrey policing transition and as a director of GFL Environmental does not place Ms. McDonald in a conflict of interest. City staff have further stated that Ms. McDonald is not required to register under the city’s lobbyist registration policy by virtue of these roles, as suggested in your article.

“The director of police services has requested that the city formally confirm these conclusions to put this issue to rest.”

In his leaked Oct. 4 letter to Locke, director of police services Glen Lewis claimed Locke’s statements about McDonald’s dual roles undermined her assignment. Lewis also blamed Surrey city council and staff for delaying the transition. 

Locke did not respond for comment, but acting city manager Rob Costanzo would only confirm that McDonald does not fall under the city’s lobbyist registry, which applies to developers. 

“Communication I may have had with any external entity, the province, Jessica McDonald or otherwise, I'm not going to disclose that to the media,” Costanzo said in an interview. “However, the core of the question, can we indemnify her? That's really the crux of the issue, and no, the city cannot indemnify an individual who's not a representative of the city in the capacity of an employee, an officer of the city or an elected official. That has not happened.”

Professional corporate director McDonald was deputy minister to premier Gordon Campbell from 2003 to 2005, at the same time as Locke was the BC Liberal MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers. Campbell promoted McDonald to head B.C.’s public service from 2005 to 2009. She oversaw the start of Site C dam construction during her 2014-to-2017 tenure as BC Hydro CEO, which ended when the NDP came to power in July 2017. She also chaired Canada Post from 2017 to 2020.