The union representing RCMP officers is pressing the Alberta government to keep the force as it reviews whether to switch to a provincial service, arguing such a change would cost more with little benefit to the public.
The National Police Federation has registered as a lobbyist and has launched a website called Keep Alberta RCMP to make the case against abandoning the Mounties, which have served as the provincial force since 1932. The proposal for an Alberta Provincial Police is among a list of policies under review as the United Conservative Party government seeks to rewrite its relationship with Ottawa.
The government’s “fair deal” panel released a report last year recommending the switch to a provincial force to respond to long-standing concerns about rural crime rates and perceptions that the RCMP can’t adequately respond to local needs while being run out of Ottawa. The government appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers to review the proposal with a deadline of April 30.
Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said any shortcomings the province identifies with the RCMP can be addressed through its contract with the federal government.
“I keep reminding those in government that they already do have a provincial police service: the Alberta RCMP,” Mr. Sauvé said in an interview.
“If there’s a problem about service delivery, if there’s a problem about resource levels, if there’s a problem about budgets, crime, severity, response times, then let’s have an open dialogue about that with your existing provincial police service and see how we can fix it.”
The RCMP provide provincial or local policing through contracts that include subsidies from the federal government, which pays 30 per cent of the costs. The RCMP have 4,200 employees in Alberta, including officers and civilian staff.
Ontario and Quebec both have provincial forces; the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary polices the St. John’s area, Corner Brook and parts of Labrador, while the RCMP have a contract for the rest of the province.
The union’s website says losing that federal subsidy, as well as the cost of setting up an Alberta police force, would make the switch significantly more expensive without resulting in better policing. It notes that Red Deer recently rejected a proposal to replace the RCMP with a municipal force, citing costs, and the local government in Surrey, B.C., have seen costs balloon as it moves to replace the RCMP with its own police department.
“Bluntly, transitioning to a completely separate provincial police service will cost a lot of money,” Mr. Sauvé said.
The union commissioned an opinion poll late last year that found strong support for the RCMP in Alberta. The survey, conducted by Pollara, found the provincial police force had the lowest support of any of the fair deal panel’s recommendations, with 25 per cent of respondents saying it would help Alberta’s place in Canada. Of the respondents whose communities are policed by the RCMP, 81 per cent said they were somewhat or very satisfied with the force.
The online poll included 1,300 Albertans but does not have a margin of error.
Mr. Sauvé said the union plans to expand its public-relations campaign, which has also included paid social-media ads. He declined to say what else the police federation has planned.
Premier Jason Kenney and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu have both spoken favourably about the possibility of a provincial police force.
Mr. Madu was not available for an interview.
In a statement, his press secretary, Blaise Boehmer, said the fair deal panel’s report showed “legitimate frustrations” with the quality of policing in rural areas. He said PricewaterhouseCoopers is meeting with the RCMP, the police union and rural municipalities as it reviews whether it is feasible to switch to a provincial force.
No one from the RCMP was available for an interview. Alberta RCMP spokesman Fraser Logan said in an e-mailed statement that the force isn’t advocating for the province to maintain its contract with the Mounties but has provided information to the government about service delivery and costs.
Mr. Logan’s statement said the RCMP are working to modernize the police service while taking steps to hear and respond to concerns from the public.