British Columbia has just about run out of time to decide whether to accept Ottawa’s terms to have the RCMP police a large chunk of the province for another 20 years.
The end of November marks the deadline imposed by federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews for B.C., which is also negotiating on behalf of a so-called bloc of provinces and territories, to accept or reject an undisclosed policing deal. The other players are the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Manitoba. The basics of an agreement would be adapted to the individual needs of the other bloc jurisdictions.
Alberta and Saskatchewan signed their own deals with Ottawa.
Citing cabinet confidentiality, B.C. Solicitor-General Shirley Bond is refusing to say whether she will bring the issue to Wednesday’s cabinet meeting in Vancouver – the last before the deadline expires – but it will presumably represent the final opportunity for the province’s Liberal cabinet ministers to have their say on the deal.
This week, Ms. Bond said she is not expecting Mr. Toews to extend the end-of-November deadline he has been talking about since Ms. Bond disclosed in September that talks had hit a snag. “I don’t think that Mr. Toews is interested in wiggle room,” Ms. Bond told a conference call with reporters.
The federal minister was threatening to pull the RCMP out of the province by 2014 unless B.C. signed the deal.
Ms. Bond said Monday no final decisions had been made, but that the talks have gone well. From all accounts, there is no detailed tentative agreement, but rather a summary of where the secretive talks stood as of last week.
“There has been progress made on a number of key issues. I think that’s very significant,” said Ms. Bond. “There was a time when there was a major concern about whether or not we would be back at the table at all.”
Peter Fassbender, mayor of the City of Langley and a representative for B.C. municipalities in the talks, said there never was going to be a perfect agreement. “There’s always going to be give and take in any set of negotiations, but I think we made significant progress from where we started in September.”
Back then, Ms. Bond suggested the talks were at an impasse, and began musing about recreating B.C.’s provincial police force – replaced 60 years ago by the Mounties – if negotiations failed. Premier Christy Clark said it might be cheaper to revive the provincial force than keep the RCMP.
Ms. Bond has refused to get into details of the talks, but said B.C.’s key issue was accountability and controlling costs.
“We have been clear that we believe there should be a role for a contract-management committee where provinces would have the opportunity to have discussion about items Public Service Canada may be considering, additional costs,” she said. “That’s been one of the big challenges for municipalities. Costs are often determined and passed on to municipalities.”
Ms. Bond also said B.C. municipalities policed by the RCMP have made it clear to her that their “number one priority” is maintaining the RCMP as long as cost-containment tools are part of the deal.
“We had clear messages from the people we’re negotiating on behalf of that their preference was the RCMP if we can find a deal that makes it work for them.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Mr. Toews office said the talks have gone well, “and we are looking forward to a positive outcome.” But there was no response to a query from The Globe and Mail on whether the deadline stands.
Jasbir Sandhu, the federal Official Opposition critic for public safety, chided Mr. Toews for using a deadline to force an end to the negotiations. “Bullying the provinces and playing politics in contract talks is not acceptable,” said the B.C. New Democrat. “It shouldn’t have gotten to this last minute, hold-the-gun to the province’s head situation.”
B.C. has been the leader in the talks, but the other provinces and territories are also poised to make their decisions on the agreement.
“They remain today as a bloc in terms of the negotiations and what came out of it. They have stayed unified as a group,” said Mr. Fassbender.
“The minute it goes back to their cabinets to either approve or not approve, that becomes an individual decision because it is the individual jurisdictions that sign an agreement. B.C. would not sign on behalf of the other provinces or vice versa because it is a bilateral agreement signed by each of the provinces and territories.”