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RCMP members march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Alta., on July 7, 2017. The federally managed RCMP has 20,000 officers stationed across Canada.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The RCMP is facing questions about whether it should retreat from policing some municipal and provincial jurisdictions, but the union that represents the rank and file says there is a clear case for the Mounties to stay put.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney has urged residents to consider the idea of starting a provincial police service.

In town hall meetings across the province, officials with the National Police Federation (NPF) have told Albertans that without the generous federal subsidies provided for using the RCMP, local and provincial taxpayers would have to add millions of dollars to their costs.

RCMP union lobbies Alberta government to keep Mounties amid push for provincial force

Petition for referendum on Surrey’s police transition garners 42,942 signatures

“Thirty per cent of the provincial policing costs are picked up by the feds -- in perpetuity,” Kevin Halwa, a regional director of the federation, said on Jan. 26 at a “Keep Alberta RCMP” town hall, one of 40 scheduled there this winter.

“It doesn’t really matter if you are buying a jug of milk at the corner store or if you’re buying provincial policing services,” Mr. Halwa said. “Having somebody else pick up 30 per cent of the bill is a lot of money.”

The federally managed RCMP has 20,000 officers stationed across Canada. Through contractual arrangements, it provides policing services to eight of Canada’s 10 provinces, all three territories, and hundreds of cities, small communities and First Nations.

In June, a parliamentary committee in Ottawa released a report that urged the federal government to “explore the possibility of ending contract policing within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police” and consider helping some jurisdictions establish their own provincial and territorial police services.

City council in Surrey, B.C., decided in 2018 to end its RCMP contract, although it is still using Mounties as it phases in a start up Surrey Police Service.

In October, the mayor of Dieppe, N.B., said on a radio program that he has heard the Mounties may leave his community in a few years. “The RCMP’s not going to be here doing municipal policing,” Yvon Lapierre said, but did not explain further.

Debates about the future of the Mounties matter greatly to the clout of the NPF, which currently has 20,000 dues-paying members. About 3,000 Mounties work in Alberta and more than 1,000 in Surrey. Any of those officers who join new, replacement forces would cease to be RCMP members.

The NPF has also highlighted the costs of Surrey’s switchover, and has been funding a local group that wants a plebiscite on whether the city should reverse its plan.

Political advocacy by a national-scale police group in Canada is new. RCMP officers ratified the NPF, their first union, in 2019. And its first job was to negotiate better wages.

Last year, federal officials agreed to steep pay raises retroactive to 2017. The increases were meant to correct years of salaries that were below those of other Canadian police forces.

The communities, provinces and territories, which had no say in the negotiations, want Ottawa to help them cover their portion of the increases.

“Municipalities are calling on our federal partner to cover all retroactive costs,” the Federation of Canadian Municipalities said in a statement last fall.

During its ongoing townhalls in Alberta, the union’s presentations point out that the federal government also pays costs related to policing First Nations, serious-crime squads and legal liability. The province would have to cover that too if it broke ties with the RCMP, the NPF said.

Alberta had an independent provincial police force in the 1930s. Surrey had a municipal service until the 1950s.

These services and many others were disbanded after Ottawa offered to pay more than half of any Mountie’s salary in jurisdictions that replaced a local or provincial police service with the RCMP.

Today, that subsidy is only 10 per cent in urban areas, and 30 per cent in a rural region or province.

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National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé at the RCMP Pacific Region Training Centre in Chilliwack, B.C., on Nov. 15, 2019. In a recent interview with The Globe, Mr. Sauvé said the RCMP leaders have not 'done the best job in the last few decades in selling their value to taxpayers and citizens.'Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

In December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in a mandate letter to “conduct an assessment of contract policing” in consultation with other governments. The current 20-year federal framework governing all contracts for local and provincial RCMP services expires in 2032.

In a recent interview with The Globe, NPF president Brian Sauvé said the RCMP leaders have not “done the best job in the last few decades in selling their value to taxpayers and citizens.”

So, he added, the union has stepped up.

An Elections BC disclosure report in December showed that the NPF was by far the biggest financial backer of Surrey Police Vote, a non-profit group pushing for a binding referendum on whether to retain the local RCMP. The records show the union gave $104,000 of the group’s $118,000 in total donations.

“We paid for a website, we paid for an accounting firm to support Surrey Police Vote,” Mr. Sauvé said. But he added that the plebiscite campaign was always a grassroots initiative by citizens.

In Alberta last autumn, Mr. Kenney’s government released a consultant’s report on the costs of launching an independent provincial police force.

Yet that report did not say the province would lose millions in federal money if it stopped using the RCMP, and Mr. Sauvé said that’s a serious omission. “Ultimately, Albertans would be forfeiting nearly $200-million a year in federal subsidy,” he said.

The union has said its polling shows most Albertans are satisfied with the Mounties (80 per cent) and only a minority would want to replace them (9 per cent).

In addition to local law enforcement, the RCMP has a federal-policing wing that investigates drug gangs, white-collar crime and threats to national security. The Mounties also protect politicians and visiting dignitaries, and maintain computer databases and forensic labs.

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