The National Police Federation, the union that represents nearly 20,000 Mounties, has in recent years gathered more than $1-million to spend on political advertising in Alberta and British Columbia as part of a push to shore up support among voters in areas where municipal and provincial politicians are reconsidering the role of the RCMP.
Both provinces require political interest groups to file public reports about money they set aside for political campaigns. This can include financing for billboards, signage, social-media posts and other types of advertisements. The rules can also apply to canvassing and the organizing of events that reference politicians’ political platforms.
Elections Alberta records show that the NPF has declared contributions for several political advertising campaigns in the province since 2021, amounting to more than $900,000. Elections B.C. records say the NPF has also declared more than $200,000 in that province since 2020.
The RCMP provides policing in rural areas, First Nations and some municipalities in both provinces. But some politicians in the region are eyeing replacement police forces. The union’s political messaging is aimed at countering these initiatives.
This type of promotional activity is a new development for the Mounties, whose police officers first unionized in 2019.
The RCMP is marking its 150th anniversary this month, and Western Canada is a key battleground in the struggle over the force’s future. About half of all Mounties in the country are posted to British Columbia or Alberta.
While policing models have not emerged as a major issue in the continuing Alberta election campaign, which will end with Monday’s vote, the police union is reminding voters that the governing United Conservative Party has promoted the idea of the province eventually starting up its own police force.
“Your property taxes could still be impacted by a provincial police transition,” the police union said on its “Keep Alberta RCMP” Twitter feed last week. “Send a letter to the government to Keep Alberta RCMP,” reads another one of the messages, which the union has been pairing with colourful illustrations. Each includes a footnote saying it was authorized by the National Police Federation.
A B.C. legislative committee last year recommended that “a new provincial police service take over services formerly contracted to the RCMP.”
The City of Surrey, in the Lower Mainland, has been phasing out its local RCMP detachment in favour of a new municipal police force – a process it began under a previous mayor. Provincial and municipal politicians in the province are now discussing whether the city should continue the transition, despite the pro-RCMP views of its current mayor and council.
The RCMP gained traction across Canada decades ago with a policing model that took over from many now-forgotten provincial and municipal police forces. In the federally run framework, known as contract policing, Ottawa subsidizes the salaries of Mounties, who are hired by provinces and municipalities to do local law-enforcement work.
Such arrangements exist everywhere but Ontario and Quebec. Critics of this model say that Mounties can be less accountable than local police forces.
Danielle Smith, the Leader of the UCP, is not campaigning on starting up a new police force for Alberta. But the police union says her party has never distanced itself from a policy first floated by former UCP premier Jason Kenney, whose government costed out a proposal to start a provincial police force to replace the RCMP.
That report from 2021 highlighted hundreds of millions of dollars in likely switchover costs. Since then, the policing debate has grown more localized. Prior to the province’s election call, the UCP government announced financial support for municipalities who may want to move on from their own RCMP contracts.
The police union held a telephone town hall in April, in which its leaders told voters that Alberta’s Official Opposition New Democrats are better poised to protect the Mounties.
“The NDP has come out publicly and said several times that they are not in support of moving to a provincial police service,” Kevin Halwa, the NPF’s Prairie-region director, said during the town hall. “I’ll just leave that with you and you can do your own research on your own candidate in your riding.”
Regional fights over the RCMP’s role are key to understanding the NPF’s emerging role in political advertising campaigns, according to Steven Tufts, a professor at York University who has studied police unions.
“The RCMP has been in crisis for repeated scandals across the country for a number of years,” Prof. Tufts said. He added that while the RCMP’s leadership faces strictures on participating in political conversations, the police union does not.
This means the NPF is uniquely situated to make a case for the Mounties. “Since 2019, the RCMP has had the capacity through its union to voice campaigns such as ‘Keep Alberta RCMP,’“ he said. He added that talk of starting up replacement police forces could “create an existential crisis for the RCMP.”
Fabrice De Dongo, a spokesperson for the NPF, said in an e-mail that “we continue to encourage Albertans to speak out against this expensive, unpopular, and politicized proposed police transition.”
He would not discuss the specifics of the NPF’s political advertising, except to say that the union is “fully compliant” with regulatory bodies.
In March, the city council of Grand Prairie, Alta., voted to rip up its RCMP contract and start phasing in a new city force. “This is not about an anti-RCMP sentiment. This is about the best service model for our community needs,” the city’s mayor, Jackie Clayton, said in an interview.