The British Columbia community of Squamish appears to be the province’s sole holdout in signing a new RCMP contract for local policing, after two months of delays in which some cities mused about ditching the force altogether.
The province signed a new 20-year contract with the RCMP this year but some municipalities were refusing to sign it, citing a list of concerns ranging from salaries to the amount of control they would have over their local detachments.
The initial deadline of April 30 was extended to the end of May, and then to the end of June.
With the latest deadline set for Saturday, nearly every municipality that currently uses the RCMP as it local police force has confirmed it will sign the new agreement.
Squamish is the exception, said Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, who represented municipalities during negotiations..
“They’ve asked the provincial minister’s office for some clarification on a couple of points,” Mr. Fassbender said in an interview Thursday after a meeting with the federal public safety minister in Surrey. “My sense is that those questions are being answered. I would be very surprised if we don’t have 100 per cent.”
Squamish mayor Rob Kirkham could not be reached to explain why his community has yet to sign the deal, but a spokeswoman said the district is continuing talks with the provincial government.
“I can tell you that the district is in discussions with the province in an effort to finalize the contract,” district spokeswoman Christie Smith said in an e-mail.
Last month, the district’s council passed a resolution objecting to three items in the contract that are to be paid for by municipalities: the cost of the RCMP’s new headquarters in Surrey, the cost of security at divisional and regional headquarters, and the cost of legal services.
A report by municipal staff recommended the district agree to sign the contract only if those costs are removed because they cover “services not utilized by the community.”
The report said removing the legal services and security costs would save Squamish more than $3,000 for the 2012/2013 fiscal year. It did not say how much the district would be required to contribute for the new RCMP headquarters, as those costs won’t come into effect for another year.
Other municipalities, particularly in the Vancouver area, have said they want more control over how their local detachments operate and spend money, and several missed the previous deadlines to sign on.
Burnaby, Richmond, Port Coquitlam and the City and District of North Vancouver have all signed onto the deal as the June 30 deadline approached, although they are still not happy with the agreement.
They’ve joined together to launch a two-year study to determine whether to keep the RCMP. If they decide the national police force isn’t worth it, they can trigger a two-year opt-out clause to start their own police department, invite another municipal force to take over, or work with other cities to create a regional force.
Ladysmith was listed among the communities that hadn’t signed, but Mayor Rob Hutchins explained Thursday that the delay was over a local issue related to the mortgage for a recently built detachment. He said the issue has been sorted out, and Ladysmith has told the province it plans to sign the contract.
The contract included a number of changes to give provinces and municipalities more control over how the force operates its detachments.
Local politicians will have more input into spending and the hiring of senior officers, and the contract will be reviewed every five years. Municipalities or provinces that want to back out of the contract can leave with two years’ notice.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews defended the contract, though he preferred to stay out of the debate.
“That’s an issue that is a local issue that the province is going to have to deal with,” Toews told reporters Friday in Surrey.
“I think the contract is a fair one, it’s value for money in terms of the taxpayers, and given the provisions that we had for local accountability, I think an excellent job has been done.”
B.C. has the single-largest contingent of RCMP officers of any province. Only 11 municipalities have their own police force, with the rest — including large cities such as Surrey and Richmond — relying on the RCMP.
Under the contract, small communities with fewer than 15,000 residents split the cost of policing with the federal government, with the municipality paying 70 per cent. Larger cities pay 90 per cent.
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