The RCMP has chosen union leaders from its ranks for the first time, a move that sets the stage for labour negotiations that could increase policing costs in communities across Canada.
Elected to the new union’s top position earlier this month, president-elect Brian Sauvé said it’s premature to talk about the National Police Federation’s (NPF) collective-bargaining strategy with the federal government.
But if those negotiations should fail, the sergeant from Surrey said, “we are not afraid to go to binding arbitration.”
“The membership told us pay is No. 1, human-resource levels are No. 2, and then benefits,” Sauvé said in a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail. “So they’re pretty consistent and we’ll try to do that.”
A century ago, the federal government passed laws blocking Mounties from unionizing. That lasted until 2015, when the Supreme Court found the practice unconstitutional.
“The RCMP is the only police force in Canada without a collective agreement to regulate the working conditions of its officers,” the top court said at the time, paving the way for a union.
The NPF was ratified in a vote earlier this year by members and represents the vast majority of the Mounties’ 19,000-officer work force.
When it formally launches operations later this winter, it will be three times as large as any other police union in the country.
Jurisdictions that use the RCMP "will soon start to see, basically, an unfiltered view about what the members policing their communities feel about their own organization,” Mr. Sauvé said.
The NPF says that the RCMP rank and file’s wages rank 63rd out of 80 Canadian police forces. The federal government has countered that the average Mountie salary is “in line” with those at other forces.
Any pay increase will have implications for all levels of government.
While the RCMP is a federally managed force, about two-thirds of all Mounties are leased out as local officers to provinces, cities and towns.
This “contract policing” model started a century ago, with Ottawa spreading Mounties around Canada through a standing offer to pay more than half of every officer’s wages. That arrangement induced local governments to shutter pre-existing police forces, especially in Eastern and Western Canada.
Federal subsidies have diminished over time and the contract-policing model is now under increasing scrutiny.
Surrey, the biggest city policed by the Mounties, is moving to replace its RCMP detachment with an independent local force. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced this month that a panel will look at how to end his province’s contract with the RCMP.
“We will definitely be engaged along the way and providing input to those decision-makers,” Mr. Sauvé said.
But he said the top priority for the union’s new representatives is to meet in January to figure out the basics: how to set and collect dues; how to get union executives time away from their jobs; and how to get government documents disclosed in preparation for bargaining.
Negotiating a new contract with the federal government’s Treasury Board Secretariat could start as early as this spring, he said.
"It could all be done in a month if the employer would agree to everything we ask for,” Mr. Sauvé said. “But I doubt that is going to happen. I’d like to say maybe a year, but I don’t know.”
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