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Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks past a mountie after addressing a crowd on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Saturday, July 1, 2006. (Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks past a mountie after addressing a crowd on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Saturday, July 1, 2006. (Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press)

B.C. hits impasse on future of RCMP as Ottawa refuses new talks Add to ...

The B.C. government and municipalities association are asking the federal government for new talks on an RCMP policing contract for the province that will shape similar deals across Canada.

The appeal is central to a letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews prompted by an optimistic speech by federal Heritage Minister James Moore on Friday, when he told the annual meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities he was sure a deal could be reached. Peter Fassbender, the association’s representative in the talks, and B.C. Solicitor-General Shirley Bond wrote the letter after Mr. Moore’s remarks. As of Monday, Ottawa not replied.

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“We want to sit down based on Minister Moore’s comments to the UBCM,” said Mr. Fassbender, also mayor of the city of Langley.

To date, Mr. Toews has ruled out new talks, and said the province has until November to accept a new 20-year deal or face the withdrawal by 2014 of the RCMP from its role policing most of the province. Eight other provinces and territories across Canada are waiting for B.C. to strike a deal that will guide their agreements.

On Monday, Mr. Toews’s spokesman, Michael Patton, said in a statement: “The federal government has left the door open to B.C. to present concrete proposals on governance, accountability and cost-containment.”

Mr. Fassbender had a wry response. “Great, give us a date and we’ll do that,” he said. “If they’re committed to that, we’ll make that happen.”

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Ms. Bond have raised the possibility of creating a provincial police force for the first time in about 60 years, suggesting it would be cheaper than the proposed deal Ottawa is offering on the RCMP. Ms. Clark says her government won’t sign an open-ended contract with the RCMP that could leave taxpayers exposed for the next two decades.

But Mr. Fassbender was skeptical that a B.C. police service would be cheaper. He said he had not seen all the data that might be available to the Premier, but that the costs of a newly unionized force plus transitional costs would be daunting.

“Until proven wrong, I am going to stand by this position,” he said.

Ms. Clark refused on Monday to reveal preliminary estimates of the cost of setting up a provincial force, saying there is still significant work to be done.

“There is a lot of work that remains to be done to understand this thoroughly and part of it is just, what are the costs of buying all the property and buying all the guns and buying all the cars – there are a lot of costs that go into it,” she told reporters in Victoria.

The provincial government’s financial analysts have been working on the cost estimates for several years. One major consideration for the province is the loss of the federal subsidies provided for local governments that accept RCMP services, which last year totalled $184-million.

But Ms. Clark said the balance could tip against RCMP services if there are no controls put in place to contain costs for both capital and labour.

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who last week offered to form a united front with Ms. Clark to push for a new deal with the RCMP, described her approach as “inane” and lacking seriousness.

“It seems like a government that doesn’t have any seriousness – it seems to float around looking for one front-page story rather than putting forward serious and well-thought-out public policy proposals,” he told reporters.

He said the government should either negotiate its contract in private, or be prepared to shed light on what it knows about setting up a provincial police force on its own.

With a report from Daniel Leblanc in Ottawa

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