The seven candidates running to be the next United Conservative Party leader and premier are split on whether Alberta should bring in its own provincial police force.
Four of them told a debate Thursday that it’s not a plan they would pursue right now.
“Not at this time,” candidate Rebecca Schulz said to applause from local leaders at the Alberta Municipalities annual meeting in Calgary.
“It is not supported by the vast majority of municipalities. And it is not something that has really come up on anybody’s doorstep as I’ve travelled Alberta.”
Schulz said more must be done to address rural crime response time and security in cities, but added that could be addressed immediately by spending more money on specialized crime units and rural police initiatives.
Danielle Smith said the goal is better policing without extra cost and that more systemic change is needed to help police deal with a high number of mental health and addiction cases.
“I would want to move immediately with augmenting our current [RCMP] policing,” said Smith.
Travis Toews said he is in favour of a provincial police service to better fight crime but understands municipalities worry about being saddled with onerous costs.
“I know you’re concerned about having to pick up a larger portion of the tab,” said Toews, promising to work with local leaders on a solution.
Leela Aheer said not enough consultation has been done with municipalities and there is not enough detail on how it will be paid for.
“There has been absolutely no information about funding, and it’s bizarre how this information has come across all of our desks,” said Aheer.
“We will talk about this and we will go forward, but I do not support it at this time.”
Brian Jean said the issue is bigger than more police officers and must also include stopping “the revolving door of criminals through our justice system.”
Jean added, “I commit to not removing the RCMP from Alberta.”
Todd Loewen said about six in 10 Albertans already receive police service by non-RCMP officers and the rest should at least have the option to pursue the same deal.
“I do support a provincial police force. But do I believe municipalities should pay for it? No,” said Loewen.
Rajan Sawhney characterized the provincial police force proposal as a solution in search of a problem and said more consultation is needed.
“I absolutely do not support an Alberta provincial police force,” said Sawhney. “I haven’t heard one elected official actually speak in support of it.
“We’re trying to jump to a solution to a problem that has not been fairly articulated.”
The Alberta Municipalities represents and speaks for villages, towns and cities in the province.
Alberta Municipalities president Cathy Heron said they don’t support the current model proposed by the government last fall.
But Heron said they are open to a deeper dive on different options, perhaps-hybrid models and ways to better treat root causes of crime.
“We would be open to a conversation about a provincial police force – just not the one that was proposed,” Heron said in an interview.
Earlier this year, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta said it supports keeping the RCMP and opposes the idea of a provincial police force because the government has failed to demonstrate how it would increase service levels in rural areas.
Premier Jason Kenney’s government is still investigating whether to pursue a plan to replace Mounties, who currently carry out their duties in rural areas and some smaller cities.
A third-party consultant’s report released last October estimates it costs Alberta about $500-million a year for the RCMP. The federal government chips in $170-million under a cost-sharing agreement. The report said if Alberta decides to go it alone, it would cost about $735-million each year, on top of $366-million in startup costs.
But it said there is potential for more cost-effective law enforcement by using existing human resources and the government’s financial services to save money, and by drafting agreements with municipal forces to share specialized services.
UCP members will select a new leader to replace Kenney on Oct. 6.
– With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary