[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]
Dear Dr. Steve,
How do you think the current legal troubles of Surrey's Mayor Doug McCallum compare with other B.C. political scandals?
When it comes to B.C. political crime you could say Mayor McCallum has some big shoes to fill. Although according to the video evidence, perhaps not quite as big as the mayor claimed. But if he was indeed caught flat-footed in a fib McCallum will have placed himself in distinguished company, of a sort. But will Footgate prove to be more than a B.C. political footnote?
Our story so far: On Sept. 4, 2021, McCallum had a confrontation with Debi Johnstone in a supermarket parking lot. Johnstone, who opposes McCallum's plan to create a Surrey police force, was gathering signatures for a petition. McCallum claimed that Johnstone drove over his foot when leaving the scene, and showed off a piteous limp to prove it. Citing video surveillance evidence they say failed to back that version of events, the RCMP subsequently charged McCallum with alleged public mischief. The trial has been set for October, two weeks after the Surrey civic election. That's politics for you — just one damn jury vote after another.
At a Monday meeting of Surrey council, two councillors called for the mayor to step down while his case is pursued, and McCallum was jeered by spectators until he fled and the meeting was adjourned. As Sherlock Holmes famously said: “The game's afoot!” (Arthur Conan Doyle lived in Surrey. Spooky yet true.)
The charges against McCallum have not been proven and have yet to be tested in court.
At least this affair could prove to be solid training for the new Surrey Police Service. In that sense McCallum is showing admirable commitment to the entire criminal justice process — like a ripe tomato volunteering itself for a pasta sauce. And Mayor McCallum certainly isn't the first B.C. official to make of themselves a political case study. Perhaps all this will be featured in that fancy new museum Victoria is getting someday.
Scandals? We got 'em. The BC Rail controversy was a (not so) Little Engine That Could. Mike Harcourt resigned over Bingogate, which was in hindsight a fairly modest little gate, hardly worthy of the suffix. Premier Glen Clark was decked after his home was raided by the RCMP. (“Patio Gate” never caught on as a scandal name, probably because any Google searches for it would likely take you to Home Depot.)
Then there was that other Surrey mayor, Bill Vander Zalm. Dr. Steve understands that Mayor McCallum is trying his best, but frankly he could arrange to have Snidely Whiplash tie him to the railroad tracks every week and it still wouldn't match the drama generated by the Zalm back in the day.
Zalm once sued a political cartoonist who depicted him picking the wings off flies, he made a Dutch Christmas movie called Sinterklaas Fantasy (while he was premier) that showed him sliding over a frozen rainbow into a canal, he later filed freedom of information requests seeking the truth about chemtrails.
And that's aside from the spectacle of amateur hat model Faye Leung sparring with Vander Zalm over the sale of his Fantasy Gardens theme park and the details of a payment from purchaser Tan Yu. Vander Zalm was annoyed at Leung's claim that a $20,000 payment was handed over to him in a paper bag. Scurrilous and untrue, Vander Zalm insisted — the money was actually in a white envelope.
Those of us who traffic in B.C. politics will always speak with reverence of the Zalm. Doug McCallum will never have enough squashed feet to compete with the man for entertainment value.
Ultimately Vander Zalm wasn't convicted of any criminal offence but did eventually lose a defamation suit to Ted Hughes, whose 1991 inquiry found Vander Zalm had been in conflict of interest over the theme park sale. And like so many alumni of his office, Vander Zalm resigned.
For a while there being premier of B.C. was like playing drums for Spinal Tap. Vander Zalm's predecessor, Bill Bennett, was convicted of insider trading but only ten years after resigning the office in 1986. Following Vander Zalm, Harcourt and Clark both resigned. Gordon Campbell grinned for a memorable mug shot after being caught drunk driving in Hawaii but survived to finish his term.
Give Mayor McCallum credit — he is not accused of insider dealing or financial chicanery or drunk driving or dressing for excess on the public’s dime. No one has questioned him over the construction of his back porch or peddling a railway at a yard sale.
He is, however, surely the first provincial politician accused of falsifying an owie. It doesn't really rise to the level of accepting an indeterminate paper receptacle full of cash — more like a long, hot car ride during which Tommy says Sally punched him again even after Mom said she would turn this car around if there was any more nonsense. Are we there yet? Not till October, Surrey voters. Buckle up.
McCallum does not seem repentant. No doubt he will continue to play footsie with council and public, attempting to hang on till the election. And come October, the courts will decide if McCallum has earned a lifetime pass to the B.C. Political Hall of Shame. They really ought to build a new wing for that. Anyone got a spare $789 million?