Alberta police force would cost millions more but could see better service: report

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EDMONTON — It would cost Alberta hundreds of millions of dollars more to set up and run a provincial police force, but it ultimately could provide more cost-effective law enforcement, says a report.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said Friday he’s confident the government could find the money to fund it and would not raise taxes or seek more money from municipalities.

Madu said it’s about the province having more say in how it polices itself.

“We do have a responsibility beyond the monetary implications to defend and pursue our province’s best interests,” Madu said.

“Ontario has done this. Quebec has done this. Newfoundland and Labrador has done this. And I think the time has come for our province to do the same.”

Madu's department released a third-party report from PricewaterhouseCoopers that says it costs Alberta about $500 million a year to pay for the RCMP. The federal government chips in $170 million under a cost-sharing agreement.

The report says if Alberta decided to go it alone, it would cost about $735 million each year, on top of $366 million in startup costs.

It says shared cost savings and other initiatives would allow for more front-line officers to be hired. For example, the new police service could use existing human resources and the government's financial services to save money.

It also suggested drafting agreements with municipal forces to share specialized police services, including canine units, air support and tactical squads.

The police service would be governed by an arm’s-length board with members from municipalities, First Nations and the provincial government.

The goal, the report says, would be to allow more money for front-line enforcement and give communities more say in how they are policed.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association said it was still reviewing the report, but was concerned some important questions may not have been answered.

"We are also concerned that the report may be missing some key information and may have failed to consider some important factors," the association wrote in a statement.

It urged the government to hold a referendum should it decide to go ahead with its police plan.

There are 1,480 Mounties in Alberta. They police rural areas, small communities and cities, and some First Nations. Edmonton and Calgary have their own municipal forces.

A transition would take up to six years to complete.

Madu said the United Conservative government will consult the public starting next month.

The proposal springs from the final report of Premier Jason Kenney’s "fair deal" panel. It was delivered in June 2020 after consultations with Albertans on how the province fares in relation to the rest of the country.

A survey done for the report suggested that two-thirds of Albertans do not wish to abandon the RCMP.

The panel said it heard the opposite from many in rural areas and was told the national force has become too bureaucratically inflexible and that smaller communities are not getting enough front-line officers.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, head of the Mounties in Alberta, said they look forward to hearing and acting on what Albertans have to say.

“We know that Albertans want an active role in community safety and in deciding how their policing services are provided,” Zablocki said.

Irfan Sabir, justice critic for the Opposition NDP, said Madu is misleading Albertans by suggesting a new police service would be cost-neutral. Sabir warned there would be a tax increase to pay for it..

“The report clearly states it will cost more."

He said the government’s plan is self-serving, given the RCMP is investigating allegations the UCP committed identity fraud in the 2017 vote that elected Kenney as leader.

The New Democrats say they will scrap the police proposal if they win the 2023 provincial election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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