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Newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson stands in the Mounties' headquarters in Ottawa on Nov. 16. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Newly appointed RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson stands in the Mounties' headquarters in Ottawa on Nov. 16. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

RCMP banks on e-learning to instill better habits among officers Add to ...

Criticized for a retrograde and fractious culture, the Mounties have come up with a five-year plan for change – one that centres on using the Internet to help teach leadership.

New Commissioner Bob Paulson, trying to shape Canada’s next generation of police bosses, wants them to think early and often about the challenges facing the 30,000-member national force.

The hope is that “e-learning” courses will instill better habits into a hidebound organization, with a focus on top commanders as well as the “younger and less experienced leaders in the organization,” according to a federal-government contract tendered this week.

Fostering and selling change is a mantra in the planned courses – with one representative title being “Implementing a Change Agenda: Negotiating Support and Buy In.”

Commissioner Paulson arrived on the job this fall stating that he feels an urgent need to groom new managers. “We are weak in our leadership area,” he told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board earlier this month. “… I tell you, one day, there is going to be the removal of the Stetson if we don’t get this straight.”

While the RCMP is an iconic Canadian institution, it has lately found itself criticized from within by female Mounties who’ve gone public with complaints of chronic workplace sexual harassment.

These allegations have served to cast more negative light on an organization increasingly seen by the public as top-down, ill-disciplined and inclined to quash dissent. Recent years have seen a flurry of complaints about the Mounties straying far from the principles of good policing and public accountability – by opting to wrongly employ lethal force, for example, or botching high-profile investigations into terrorists and sex crimes.

While no one says Internet tutoring will be the Mounties’ salvation, it is seen as one way of ingraining more police professionalism. A pilot e-learning program ran for the past year, started by former commissioner William Elliott, a career Ottawa bureaucrat.

The new, expanded program would entrench the Internet leadership courses and sharpen their focus on breaking with the past. “Developing an Agenda for Change” and “Mobilizing for Change” are the names some of the other prospective courses.

The hope is that rising officers will learn these leadership skills at their computers, while posted in detachments across the country.

One obvious advantage of Internet learning is that it eliminates the need for expensive travel and sabbaticals. But the courses are not intended to replace other police training or even be all that in-depth.

“Web-based courses are just one piece of a much larger approach to sustainable leadership development,” said Sergeant Julie Gagnon, a Mountie spokeswoman. The consulting contract envisions Mounties taking up to eight distance-learning courses in a year-long curriculum, each being “no more than 15 hours of applied time.”

Some Mountie watchers are optimistic – guardedly – about this technocratic approach to influencing culture.

“It’s obviously not going to be determinative in and of itself,” said Paul Kennedy, a former RCMP complaints commissioner. Still, he said, given that the force is in the midst of a demographic revolution, the time is ripe to challenge conventional thinking. “You’re shooting to plant the seed in the new people who’ve come in in the last five years,” he said, adding that cohort now accounts for the vast majority of RCMP officers in many detachments. “You’re looking at the new shoots because that’s where you have to start.”

The new courses, which are to be designed by the consulting company that wins the bid, are to be offered starting this April and continue for the next five years, at a total cost of up to $1-million.

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