Political heavyweight Rich Coleman has decided to abandon a potential bid to be the next mayor of Surrey. In a statement, Coleman says he won’t be leaving provincial politics.
“For the past several weeks, many people have asked me to consider a new act in my political life. The support was overwhelming and, as I’ve done throughout my career, I wanted to take the time to make the right decision,” said Coleman in a statement. “After careful consideration and many family discussions, I will not be leaving the arena of provincial politics.”
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner announced she will not seek re-election. Tom Gill will be the mayoral candidate for Hepner’s Surrey First party.
Surrey First swept the 2014 elections, capturing the mayor’s chair, all eight council seats, and the school board. But the party has showed some recent cracks, with Coun. Bruce Hayne announcing he has quit the party to sit as an independent over concerns about transparency and public consultation.
“For more than 20 years, I’ve been proud to serve the residents of Langley and I will continue to fight for them as MLA,” said Coleman. “The NDP are going down a path that we’ve seen before – one that is costly to us as a province and to each British Columbian personally – and I will devote my energy and experience into making sure my grandkids have the future they deserve.”
Coleman would have come in to the mayor’s race with huge name recognition. The former B.C. Liberal deputy premier is the MLA for Langley East, served as the party’s interim leader from Aug. 2017 until Feb. 2018 and held multiple portfolios in both Gordon Campbell’s and Christy Clark’s cabinets.
But Coleman also would have entered the race with massive political baggage.
Following the release of the German Report, Coleman was widely criticized for not doing enough to crack down on money laundering in casinos while he served as Solicitor General.
Speaking on behalf of Coleman, Jordan Bateman said the longtime MLA has decided to focus on his family.
“Politics in Surrey is a blood sport,” Bateman said. “It’s always a tough race especially for someone coming from the outside.
“Rich has several grandchildren and is at the point of his public service life where he is looking at winding down his career. Spending four years as the mayor of Surrey was not something that was attractive to himself or his family.”
“There have been a number of polls and all of them have showed him near the top. But in the end Rich is a family guy and his family wanted him around Langley more than Surrey. Even after the German Report came out, the polling still showed him with a substantial lead in the race.”
German interviewed Coleman for the report and concluded that getting rid of the Integrated Independent Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET) in 2009 had a significant impact.
“The loss of IIGET meant that the future rise of loan sharking, money laundering and organized crime in casinos, let alone illegal gaming outside of casinos, remained primarily with (BC Lottery Corp. and Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch) to sort out,” German’s report says.
The former head of IIGET, Fred Pinnock, will not blame specific people but said the former provincial government didn’t crack down on money laundering in casinos because they didn’t want to disrupt the flow of money.
“Fault lies at the feet of the B.C. Liberals while they were in government and senior management of the RCMP in this province,” Pinnock said in an interview last week.
“They all knew what was going on in those casinos and racetracks. Primarily casinos, in particular, the big ones. It was Wild West in those large casinos where organized criminal activity was running amok.”
When asked directly about Coleman’s remark that the B.C. Liberals followed the RCMP’s lead and didn’t want to “compromise any investigations,” Pinnock said he wasn’t going to comment “on any statements attributed to any individuals.”
WATCH HERE: Rich Coleman on Darryl Plecas
“But I will say I know I was complained about by government for my strident views in terms of casinos and what was going on,” Pinnock said.
“And I do know that a senior member in 2011 was muzzled by the RCMP as a result of a complaint from government one year before the contract was up for renewal and I think there’s a connection between those… events.”
Coleman rejects the idea his government was “addicted” to casino profits. He also rejects the notion that the government held any influence over RCMP decision-making because of the pending renewal of the provincial policing contract. The contract was ultimately renewed by the former government.
WATCH HERE: Extended interview: Former head of B.C.’s illegal gambling enforcement team had raised concerns
In responding to Pinnock’s accusations on behalf of the former government, Coleman said he was comfortable with the way he acted while in charge of the gaming file.
“The reality is what he is saying is inflammatory and it isn’t correct,” Coleman said in an interview last week. “The reality is that no one interfered with his ability to do his job from a political perspective.”
When asked about Coleman’s political future, Bateman said he has no plans on stepping down as an MLA.