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RCMP Commissioner William Elliott. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)
RCMP Commissioner William Elliott. (Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit for The Globe and Mail)

Outgoing RCMP chief urges return to tradition in choosing successor Add to ...

The best person to take over the RCMP this summer would be a born-and-bred Mountie, Commissioner William Elliott said in his first interview since he announced his upcoming departure.

As the first civilian bureaucrat to hold the position, Mr. Elliott expressed relief as he is preparing to leave the RCMP after an eventful four-year mandate at the top of the organization that was deemed, as he took over in 2007, to suffer from "horribly broken" management.

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Until he leaves office this summer, Mr. Elliott said he will focus on trying to convince the government to give more independence to the RCMP and let it operate under a new board of management.

For now, the question of Mr. Elliott's replacement is front-and-centre in Ottawa, as a parliamentary committee is set to hear witnesses on the matter on Tuesday and the government is preparing to appoint a selection panel. The big question is whether the Harper government should again go outside the force to find a commissioner, or whether it should return to tradition and appoint a Mountie.

Mr. Elliott said he will tell the government that his first choice would be for an internal succession, and there are worthy candidates on the RCMP's senior management team. Although he did not offer a list, the names that are top-of-mind inside the force are Rod Knecht, the current senior deputy commissioner, and deputy commissioners Peter German, Bob Paulson and Al Nause.

Mr. Elliott added the government could pick another bureaucrat to continue with the reform agenda in the RCMP, but warned against the appointment of an outsider from another police force.

"You have to have a very skilled, dedicated person to do the job. If it was up to me, I would rather, personally, see a member of the RCMP take on this job," Mr. Elliott said.

He said his second choice would be a bureaucrat, such as a deputy minister, with experience running a major organization and plenty of contacts within the federal apparatus. Mr. Elliott said his "last choice" would be a police chief from a municipal or provincial force.

"They, in my view, would have as big or greater a challenge as being from the outside, and would not have the requisite experience," he said.

While Mr. Elliott shook up the force with his self-proclaimed "blunt" and "loud" personality, he said his successor could have a smoother personality but will need to keep a tight grip on the organization.

"It might be good to have somebody who had more of a velvet glove, but the iron fist has to be there," he said.

He added the main qualification for the next commissioner would be an ability to continue the "drive for change" within the RCMP. "There are a few things that cause me some pause with respect to the timing [of the transition] and one is the danger that we'll lose some momentum on our change agenda," he said.

In addition to dealing with the issue of creating a new board of management to oversee the RCMP, he said the next commissioner will also need to revamp the discipline system and continue to identify future leaders.

Another priority will be to ensure that the RCMP management team, which has undergone a massive shuffle in recent months following a string of retirements and promotions, learns to work well together.

Mr. Elliott is looking forward to returning to fully civilian life, pointing to the public nature and ongoing media scrutiny of the RCMP, the "celebrity aspects" of the commissioner's job and the constant stress of operating in an environment with many life-and-death situations.

He said he started planning his departure before "the troubles hit" last year, referring to the media storm surrounding efforts by some senior Mounties to convince their bureaucratic bosses to replace him as commissioner.

Mr. Elliott explained that he refused to leave during that period, saying his goal was to ensure a "smooth transition" with his successor.

"I did not want to leave in the midst of controversy and hand over a difficult situation to whoever comes after me. This job is difficult enough without somebody inheriting a significant controversy and the premature departure of a commissioner," he said.

Mr. Elliott said he has been extremely pleased with the recent feedback that he has received both from rank-and-file members and RCMP brass.

"The reaction of my senior executive team was both surprise and disappointment that I'm leaving," he said. "I'd rather leave with the feeling that it's a little too early for me to go than face the situation they're concluding that I should have gone already."

His family will be happy to see him take another position within the government later on this year, he said. Looking forward to having a summer off, Mr. Elliott said the joke over the weekend was that he was "free at last."

In the interview, he added: "I'm not yet free, but I have a release date."

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