For the first time, B.C. municipalities patrolled by the RCMP will have a say in costs run up by the federal force in their communities, as part of a new 20-year deal that keeps the Mounties as the province’s main police officers.
“It’s unprecedented,” provincial Justice Minister Shirley Bond said Wednesday, after she and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews inked the landmark contract, flanked by half a dozen serge-coated members of the RCMP at its large Surrey detachment.
“This gives us the chance to question expenses before they occur. … We will have an ability to manage costs, to control costs.”
The issue of accountability and cost management led to a rancorous breakdown in negotiations between the province and Ottawa last fall.
Mr. Toews threatened to withdraw RCMP members from B.C. if the province refused to accept the federal government’s take-it-or-leave it offer by November.
B.C. responded with its own threat to re-establish a provincial police force, disbanded 60 years ago when the RCMP took over policing in most areas of the province.
According to Ms. Bond, the federal government blinked first, talks resumed, and B.C. won its demand for the right to be more involved in RCMP budget decisions.
She gave credit to Mr. Toews for setting aside their differences, rolling up his sleeves and agreeing to work together to settle the matter.
Earlier, the Public Safety Minister joked that he was glad “we don’t have to do any more wrestling in rooms over this contract”.
The drive for more accountability came directly from municipal politicians. Although they wanted to keep the RCMP, they were tired of paying for the force with no input into costs.
Under the current agreement that expires March 31, when RCMP decisions lead to added police expenses in a community, the bill is simply sent to the municipality and the municipality has to pay.
The new contract changes that. The RCMP will now be required to break down its costs and consult with municipalities over such fiscal matters as the size of detachments, the need for a new building or the acquisition of additional security equipment, Ms. Bond said.
“Previous to this, B.C. municipalities had no ability to influence those decisions. After today, they will. …They get to say: ‘Just a minute. We don’t agree with that.’”
The contract stops short of providing an actual veto for municipalities or the province over RCMP money matters. But consultation must take place. In the event of disagreement, a dispute resolution mechanism kicks in to resolve the dispute.
Accountability will take place through an enhanced contract management committee, including representatives from both the province and B.C. municipalities.
B.C. has the highest percentage of RCMP policing in Canada, with more than 9,000 employees based here.
The contract leaves previous cost-sharing arrangements intact.
Communities with more than 15,000 people will continue to pay 90 per cent of RCMP policing costs, while smaller municipalities will contribute 70 per cent.
However, Ottawa did agree to pay a greater share of the Lower Mainland’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, comprised of officers from both the RCMP and independent police forces.
“That’s one of the great lessons from Air India. You run into problems if you work in isolation,” Mr. Toews said. “We want police officers working together. We don’t want them in silos.”
Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon criticized the contract for saying little about the quality of policing.
“It’s easy for the Mounties to say they’ll be more careful with the money,” Prof. Gordon said. “It’s much more difficult for them to be truly accountable and responsive to the communities they serve.
“Not a slice of the contract has anything to do with the delivery of police services.”
NDP justice critic Mike Farnworth shared Prof. Gordon’s lack of enthusiasm for the deal.
“I think it’s going to mean an increase is costs in certain areas for local governments,” Mr. Farnworth said. “I also think there was a chance for the province to play a much stronger role [in seeking certain changes] …That did not take place. I think it was a real missed opportunity.”
With a report from Calyn Shaw