Ottawa is willing to keep RCMP municipal detachments in British Columbia as long as the province goes along with deals struck in other provinces where the force has a leading role in policing, says the federal public-safety minister.
In their first comment on the matter, Vic Toews' office issued a terse statement Wednesday responding to the disclosure that the federal government is threatening to pull the RCMP out of the province if B.C. does not sign a take-it-or-leave-it new policing contract by the end of November.
"Our Government is willing to sign new agreements with provinces. It is up to provinces to decide whether to come on board," said the e-mailed statement from Julie Carmichael, press secretary to the public-safety minister.
"The same fundamental terms and conditions will apply to all provinces."
Mr. Toews was not immediately available to comment or explain the communication.
Ottawa's contract proposal is similar to agreements signed this year covering RCMP services in Alberta and Saskatchewan. However, B.C. municipalities have become increasingly agitated at the price of policing, and are demanding better cost-control measures from the RCMP.
B.C. solicitor-general Shirley Bond said the federal government's ultimatum leaves the province with no option but to begin investigating the possibility of re-establishing its own police force, something it hasn't had since 1950.
"I don't want to characterize it that I'm looking at a provincial police force," Ms. Bond told reporters, after her startling announcement Tuesday at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
"My number one priority is reaching a settlement with the federal government to maintain an RCMP contract. But when you receive an ultimatum that the RCMP may be withdrawing from this province, I think any responsible minister would begin to do their homework."
Hardball federal negotiators have demanded that B.C. accept Ottawa's last offer for a new 20-year policing deal by Nov. 30, or RCMP services will be withdrawn at the beginning of 2014. The current agreement between the parties expires next March 31.
B.C. has the largest provincial RCMP contingent in Canada, employing about 6,000 officers in more than 60 municipalities.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts blasted Ottawa's threatened withdrawal.
"It's outrageous," she said. "They have basically walked away from negotiations and said: 'You have to sign this, or we're pulling all of our officers from the province'.''
Ms. Watts said the cost issue is crucial. The current situation is that unpredictable, "somewhat mysterious" costs arise simply from employing officers for their regular duties and cities are simply asking for some fiscal containment measures and accountability, she explained. "All we want is something that is defined." Policing is the highest item in municipal budgets.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said local politicians feel they have too little control over how RCMP officers are deployed in their municipalities and how they are billed for them.
Both Ms. Watts and Mr. Stewart said they were astounded that the federal government would walk away from negotiations, leaving only a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.
"We need to be listened to a little bit," said Mr. Stewart, adding that he believes the federal stand puts the entire RCMP at risk.
Local governments also question why they should pay for training RCMP members.
Earlier this month, Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, co-chair of a committee of Lower Mainland mayors who have the Mounties as their police force, said municipalities are prepared to replace the RCMP with provincial police if an acceptable deal cannot be reached.
"We are not afraid to look at the alternative, which would be forming our own provincial force," he said in an interview with a local newspaper.
At the moment, only 13 communities in B.C. have independent police forces.
No one from the federal Ministry of Public Safety could be reached for comment Tuesday.