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The Globe and Mail

Cash-strapped RCMP turns to consultants to train senior officers

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott photograph during an interview at RCMP Headquarter in Ottawa.

Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail/dave chan The Globe and Mail

The RCMP is publicly admitting to leadership deficits in the force but says it has to revamp its training because it needs to cut costs.

These admissions appear in a new contract tender. And Canada's national police force says it must now resort to a technocratic fix - consultants who will create computer courses to tutor top Mounties on how to lead.

"The RCMP has recently had to reduce its leadership training opportunities … because of fiscal restraint," reads the new tender. "While these programs are being revised, the RCMP is seeking immediate, cost-effective, distance-learning solutions to address generic leadership development gaps."

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The tender for "leadership competency development" was posted last month by the $5-billion-a-year, 30,000-person federal police force. The Mounties say they need these consultants to groom up-and-coming Mounties, as well as some senior executives who have made it to the top.

News of the tender comes as Commissioner William Elliott endeavours to put behind him some messy and demoralizing infighting. He survived a mutiny attempt by some of his senior commanders, who had criticized his lack of police experience and had complained they felt demeaned by his angry outbursts.

Mr. Elliott, a civilian bureaucrat appointed by the Conservatives three years ago, has now surrounded himself with a new team of more loyal police managers. Yet he told The Globe and Mail in an interview this week that the Mounties' issues go far beyond loyalty.

"I've never worked in a more bureaucratic organization," the commissioner said. Adding that he wants a more "modern, nimble, streamlined" force, he expressed hopes of improving the "bench strength" of proven police leaders throughout the force.

The problem is that the Mounties resemble a pyramid structure, with thousands of constables and corporals on the bottom, but only a few dozen deputy and assistant commissioners on top.

Now that many senior commanders in the police brass are leaving to take their pensions, they are being replaced with relatively inexperienced successors.

"The RCMP has a 'shrinking middle' in terms of age distribution," said Sergeant Julie Gagnon, an RCMP spokeswoman, in an e-mailed response to questions. Rising commanders have to become quick studies, she said, compared to "predecessors who had the luxury of developing essential competencies."

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Money woes compound the problem. Because of budget restraints, expensive leadership courses have been axed or put under review.

For example, the force used to select 25 officers with "high leadership potential" each year for special courses - at a cost of $24,000 per person per year. But there's no longer money for that. Sgt. Gagnon said the force expects that $20,000 of this cost will be saved "once the e-learning program is fully implemented."

She added that "distance-learning technologies" save on travel and hotel rooms.

The contract tender, which will pay the successful bidder $100,000 to $250,000 for a year's work, was posted by the Mounties last month. Specifically, it asks contractors to help develop courses in " developing an agenda for change," "developing effective political relationships," and "developing and engaging others," among other subjects.

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