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RCMP Commissioner William Elliott listens to a question from the media at a press conference at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb 4, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott listens to a question from the media at a press conference at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb 4, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

The RCMP's necessary but insufficient change Add to ...

The RCMP's willingness to change with the times by creating a more diverse work force is welcome, but it is only one part of a wider change that is needed. Ottawa has not done enough to fix the organization that a government task force described as "horribly broken" just three years ago.

Setting out to create a force that would be 30 per cent women (up from 17 per cent), 20 per cent visible minorities (up from 7 per cent) and 10 per cent aboriginals (up from 2 per cent) represents a signal commitment to change. This change in no way threatens the RCMP's traditions; in fact, it reinforces the Mounties' strengths as a true emblem of Canada.

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But where is the broader commitment to change that needs to occur both within the Mounties and within government, in responding to the recommendations of several inquiries, including the 2007 Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP? The task force urged the creation of a civilian management board to oversee the Mounties, among other proposed structural changes.

The need is obvious. A devastating combination of poor decision-making and arrogance in the RCMP has been apparent in manifold ways, whether in the Maher Arar torture affair and its embarrassing aftermath, the unnecessary mid-election announcement of an investigation into a security leak in the office of a Liberal finance minister, the pension scandal, the fatal tasering of a newcomer looking for his mother in the Vancouver airport, the Air-India debacle and the untruths told to a government investigator . . . the list goes on.

In the latest difficulty to shake the RCMP, several assistant and deputy commissioners complained to the government about the bully tactics of Commissioner William Elliott. This unseemly bit of squabbling should be deemed to be finished. The government investigated and chose to back Mr. Elliott, the first civilian to be commissioner of the RCMP. Now Liberal MP Mark Holland is floating the possibility of holding hearings on that dispute at the public safety committee. Such hearings would not be in the Mounties' interest, or the country's. Mr. Elliott is being given a second chance by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mr. Harper is accountable for that choice. Mr. Elliott should be allowed to get on with the job.

All happy bureaucracies may be alike, to paraphrase Tolstoy, but the unhappy ones are unhappy in their own way. The RCMP has been a uniquely unhappy place. Its dysfunction seems deeply ingrained. It will not be transformed by one leader or by shuffling in some new senior managers as the older ones retire. The Mounties have seen the light on diversity, and that's good; but a more sweeping modernization, including a move to greater civilian oversight, remains to be done.

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