British Columbia remains at odds with Ottawa over a 20-year deal for the RCMP to police most of the province, as other provinces and territories look to it to set the pattern for similar policing agreements.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark is likely to set the tone for the next developments in the standoff as she delivers a keynote speech Friday to the annual meeting of the province’s municipalities.
The Premier has the backing of other provinces who are rallying behind B.C., which is negotiating as the leader of a “block” of nine provinces and territories watching developments closely.
“B.C. is the lead negotiator for the provinces,” said Vanessa Colman-Sadd, communications director for the Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Department. “We’re interested in negotiating with the federal government to secure a deal that’s fair and beneficial to Newfoundland and Labrador regardless of the time frame involved.”
Nova Scotia is also behind B.C.
“We want the federal government to return to the negotiating table and work out some outstanding issues around cost and accountability,” said Ross McLaren, communications director for the Nova Scotia Justice Department. “We feel we can reach a fair agreement but we need the federal government to sit down with the provinces and territories and negotiate.”
But the Harper government is making no visible effort to convince British Columbia to stick with the Mounties, who are to be pulled from the province in 2014 unless both sides can strike a deal by November. The B.C. government – concerned about policing costs borne by its cash-strapped municipalities – is looking for a 20-year agreement.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts announced by Twitter on Thursday night that there would be a special resolution brought before the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting at 8 a.m. Friday to encourage all sides to return to the bargaining table. “Need all RCMP communities to attend,” tweeted Ms. Watts.
The timing to deal with the resolution would fall in the slot set for federal Heritage Minister James Moore to speak to the convention on behalf of the federal government – a speech scheduled some time ago that is now likely to be dominated by the RCMP dispute.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews sounded even less inclined to prolong negotiations on Thursday, pointing to four long years of talks and a looming deadline that he said will force a choice on B.C. Solicitor-General Shirley Bond.
“The time is coming to an end. Nov. 30 is the date by which [Ms. Bond]must make up her mind on behalf of the people of B.C.,” he told Question Period in Parliament, pointing out that Alberta and Saskatchewan have already accepted Ottawa’s “cost-effective” proposal.
Ms. Bond said this week that Ottawa is threatening to yank the RCMP from the province by 2014 unless B.C. agrees by the end of November to the same 20-year contract inked by Alberta and Saskatchewan this year.
“It is up to British Columbia. It can accept the agreement or it can choose other alternatives,” Mr. Toews said.
The pointed tone is sharply at odds with the relationship the Tories had with Ms. Clark’s predecessor Gordon Campbell, who was hailed as a strong partner by the Tories who eventually appointed him Canada’s high commissioner to Great Britain.
B.C.’s key alternative would be to set up its own regional police force for the first time in about 60 years – an option Ms. Bond says the B.C. government is exploring.
Adrian Dix, Leader of the B.C. New Democrats, gave his Liberal rivals a pass to strike a deal in B.C.’s interests. “B.C. is united in ensuring a better deal than we have now,” he said.
The usually ferocious critic of the Liberals said the only fault he could find is that the province has not gone further to plan a regional force, either as a negotiating ploy or reality.
“The federal government may be looking at us now and saying that we’re not credible in offering an alternative to them, that we have to agree to the things that they say. In that sense, that’s a concern,” he said.
On Thursday, Heritage Minister Mr. Moore was conciliatory.
“It’s a high-pressure, high-profile issue because policing is the core, first service that the government offers to its citizens,” he said outside the House of Commons. “I’m quite confident this can be resolved and that we can move forward.”
He added Ottawa is willing to “have a conversation” if Victoria wants to propose a mechanism by which future policing cost increases will be shared between the provincial and federal governments.