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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Gary Mason

What the RCMP's saviour must do to regain Canada's trust Add to ...

As the federal government ponders who has the right stuff to become the next commissioner of the RCMP, I hope it considers Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain.

Not for the job, of course. He doesn't need more headaches beyond the ones he's already endured. But the next commissioner does need to demonstrate the kind of public relations instincts and reflexes that Mr. McCain displayed during his company's food crisis in 2008.

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At the time, you may recall, there were nine confirmed and 11 suspected deaths attributed to tainted lunch meat manufactured and packaged in Toronto under the Burns and Maple Leaf brands. Instead of trying to divert blame or suggest people avoid rushing to judgment until a proper investigation was completed - the standard response of CEOs in trouble - Mr. McCain instantly got out in front of the issue.

He accepted blame, against the advice of company lawyers. He offered a sincere apology, which the company put on YouTube. He personally oversaw the recall of tainted meat. He compensated victims in record time. His response set a new standard in crisis management.

It was, in other words, precisely the opposite response we've come to expect from the RCMP. Instinctively, the Mounties circle the wagons when there's a problem, especially one involving an officer. Too often, the response includes disparaging the victim - he had mental-health issues, he was drunk, he had a history of violence - in a bid to rationalize the officer's action.

Think back to Robert Dziekanski. Despite the fact that a man died after being tasered, the immediate response was: The victim was responsible. Once video surfaced that countered the RCMP's initial claims, there was more obfuscation.

There are many things that need to occur to restore the Mounties to the once-trusted position they held in this country. To make it a modern police force that can operate effectively in a universe of cellphones and Twitter and unparalleled scrutiny.

The new commissioner not only has to embrace the idea of real civilian oversight, but he has to push for it. The Canadian public is pretty clear on this. The government has always been reluctant to introduce the kind of oversight measures suggested by former federal RCMP watchdog Paul Kennedy because of resistance inside the Mounties. That has to end, and a new commissioner has to be the one who ends it.

There's nothing the Mounties should be worried about by more oversight. Besides, in some provinces, such as B.C., it's whether they want it or not. It will be made a condition of the new contract that the RCMP signs with the province in 2012.

Oversight brings transparency, something for which the Mounties haven't been known. But transparency is more than a buzzword for the world's most successful companies today, and the Mounties need to stop looking at themselves as a paramilitary institution modelled on old constructs about policing and become a 21st-century company whose job it is to provide services across the country.

The new commissioner, the CEO of a 27,000-person company with a $5-billion budget, needs to redefine this iconic institution and not worry about old branding precepts. The Mounties should be made into a new federal agency at arm's length from government; that would allow for the force's much needed transformation to occur at a faster rate.

Its operations need to be streamlined and prioritized. Yes, people in some communities like having the Mounties around, but is that the best function for our national police force? Should it leave community policing to the provinces?

Just as the RCMP didn't lose the trust of the Canadian public in one day, so it won't get it back in a day, either. But its new commissioner should make no mistake about how important that trust is.

If people don't have faith in the job your company is doing, you'll soon be out of business. Michael McCain knew this. That's why I think he could teach the Mounties a thing or two.

 

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