The Alberta government says a new report presents a compelling and cost-effective case for establishing a new provincial police force. But the documents presented by the government leave out a discussion of the hundreds of millions in federal funding that would be lost with a shift away from RCMP policing in the province.
The long-awaited PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP report is a key part of Premier Jason Kenney’s larger “Fair Deal” push to gain greater provincial autonomy over issues such as taxation, energy policy and policing. His United Conservative Party government has highlighted concerns from some rural residents, including that RCMP members have a limited connection to the province, and are “heavy-handed” in their enforcement of gun laws.
There is no provincial police force now. Major Alberta cities have their own police forces, but the RCMP now provides services in most of Alberta’s First Nations, Métis communities, towns, rural areas and some smaller cities. Broadly, the province and municipalities cover 70 per cent of the total cost of the RCMP while the federal government covers up to 30 per cent of costs. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the total cost of RCMP services in Alberta was about $672-million, of which the federal government paid about $170-million.
In its cost-benefit analysis of a new model, the PwC report concludes that a future provincial police force would cost $734-million to $759-million annually, when certain cost-efficient policies are put in place. That compares to about $783-million to continue with RCMP service, a figure that also includes a 20 per cent increase in salary for all RCMP based on a new collective bargaining agreement reached this year. It also notes there would be a one-time transition cost of about $366-million.
However, in its cost-benefit analysis, the PwC report doesn’t directly address that the costs for a future provincial police force would be fully carried by the province, with no annual federal contribution. Asked about this missing information, Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor-General Kaycee Madu told reporters the federal government contribution for RCMP policing in Alberta “is a matter of public record.” He also said taxes will not go up.
However, NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said almost $200-million in annual federal funding will be given up if Alberta moves to a provincial force, in addition to the transition costs. “It’s in black-and-white that this will cost Albertans more.”
The May, 2020, Fair Deal panel report said Alberta would benefit from having a provincial police service not controlled by Ottawa, that is more closely connected to the communities it serves than the RCMP. But that panel noted the current federal contribution to policing in Alberta would have to be fully or partially absorbed by the province and municipalities.
The UCP government hasn’t made a final decision as to how to proceed yet. But Mr. Madu said Friday “a made-in-Alberta police service is worth serious consideration,” arguing that efficiencies to be found would allow for more “boots on the ground.”
The PwC report, which was given to the government in April, focuses in large part on governance and operating models, and the organizational structure of a new force. It says a new, more efficient police force could be in place in about six years – with four years for planning and preparation, and one to two years for a transition period.
The government argues the model as proposed will result an increase in the number of front-line officers, and also the potential to better address the root causes of crime through partnerships with mental health and addictions professionals, a governance role for Indigenous communities, and a greater focus on local recruiting and retention.
Particularly since the oil-price crash of 2014 and the resulting increase in unemployment, rural Alberta residents have expressed concerns about increasing criminal activity. But Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said he hears more frustration about repeat offenders and the need for judicial reform, as well as concerns about the toll of addiction and the poverty cycle.
“Those are things I’m hearing from rural Albertans, talking about rural crime,” said Mr. McLauchlin, who is also the reeve of Ponoka Country. “I’m hearing a lot less about the need for Alberta provincial police.”
Mr. Madu said Friday that his government has promised municipalities they won’t be burdened with new costs with any transition to a provincial police force. He said provincial government “is well-suited to deal with matters of that particular nature.”
But as of last year, the province has already asked Alberta’s rural areas, towns and villages to pay more in costs, as part of a plan to add new police officers to rural areas.
Although the UCP government gravitated toward the idea of a provincial police force, the government says it will consult with communities and law-enforcement organizations in November, and there will also be a public survey early next year.
The Fair Deal report noted that Alberta’s contract with the RCMP was renewed a decade ago, in a deal stretching to 2032. “However, the contract contains a termination clause, which allows the agreement to be terminated on March 31 of any year by either party, giving the other party at least 24 months’ notice.”
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