More questions than answers about Alberta's provincial police proposal, area mayors say

·5 min read
Last week, the provincial government outlined its police strategy, which includes replacing the RCMP with an Alberta police force.  (CBC - image credit)
Last week, the provincial government outlined its police strategy, which includes replacing the RCMP with an Alberta police force. (CBC - image credit)

There's a similar thought crossing the minds of several leaders in cities and towns surrounding Calgary: how would a provincial police service better serve Albertans?

It's a question they say hasn't been effectively answered by the UCP government.

And they want answers.

"Why are we doing this, No. 1, what's the main driver? How can we add more officers without adding more costs?" said Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown.

"Maybe the province doesn't have those answers yet, but don't make all the promises if you don't have the substantive answers to support what you're committing to."

Last week, the provincial government announced its police strategy, which includes replacing the RCMP with an Alberta police force, adding hundreds of officers to small detachments and improving service across the province.

In a recent interview on Alberta at Noon, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said people are demanding more modern police governance, including improved civilian oversight, databases and resources at each detachment.

"There's a varied set of opinions among municipal leaders. There are some that have questions, and we've been meeting with them one by one," Shandro said.

"The No. 1 issue that they have is about costs, and we've been speaking to them, making sure that they're clear that our commitment to municipalities is this would not increase any costs for municipalities at all."

Government of Alberta
Government of Alberta

But some mayors don't see how that can be the case. With the province's plan, costs would go up, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

"Somebody's got to be paying for that transition," said Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn in an interview on The Homestretch last week.

"What if we were to take and invest that in our current model? Are there changes that we could achieve with that that would give us the same outcome? But not knowing what outcome we're trying to get, it's hard to analyze that."

Thorn has other questions: How will service levels be affected with this new model? Where will the extra officers come from? How are any of these changes improving public safety?

Brown says he's also frustrated that he, and other municipal leaders, haven't been consulted.

"We should have a say on who is servicing us in our community," Brown said.

Dave Gilson/CBC
Dave Gilson/CBC

Shandro says the government will continue to engage with Albertans to get their feedback, adding no decision has been made.

The province is continuing to hold a series of public webinars focusing on the future of policing in the province. The next is scheduled for Sept. 8.

'Municipalities are partners'

Meantime, the questions persist.

Irvin Morey, mayor of Bassano, says he doesn't know whether he is for or against a provincial service because he doesn't have enough information.

"Until I see specifics, it's pretty hard to make a real judgment," he said. "We just want to make sure that we can retain at least what we have."

He says he likes the idea of officers living directly in his community, but he doesn't think his specific detachment needs more officers, as the province has proposed.

Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert says he wants to know why a whole new policing service is needed to make the improvements the province wants.

"Right now, it seems to me that the concept of an Alberta policing service is politically driven and is not driven for financial or safety reasons," Krausert said.

"We don't see any safety benefits being achieved from it that couldn't be achieved through the RCMP, and we have an excellent relationship with the RCMP."

Lyssia Baldini/CBC
Lyssia Baldini/CBC

Coaldale Mayor Jack Van Rijn is on board with the province's plan but is in a unique position.

Van Rijn says Coaldale has had to cover 100 per cent of its own policing costs since 2016, whereas other communities of the same size pay for 70 per cent. The federal government covers the other 30 per cent.

New communities contracting the RCMP's services must pay more as a "new entrant," but Van Rijn says Coaldale did use the RCMP decades ago. Between then and now, they had their own service and then switched to a contract with the City of Lethbridge before returning to the RCMP. He says he's tried to bring his case to the federal government with no success.

It all adds up to an extra $460,000 each year in policing costs, Van Rijn says.

"We're looking at getting a new swimming pool … a second sheet of ice for local ice sports. We're building a new rec centre," he said. "The difference that could make if we would have that money remain in our community."

Van Rijn contacted Shandro, who wrote a letter to the federal public safety minister on his behalf.

"He also said that if the provincial police model were to come into play in the province of Alberta, that they would treat us as that 70-30 split, so we would not have to pay that additional $460,000 a year."

Van Rijn has offered up the community to act as a pilot project if the new policing model goes ahead.

Officials at Public Safety Canada say they are reviewing the minister's letter.

Anis Heydari/CBC
Anis Heydari/CBC

In a statement, Rocky View County said the municipality appreciates the province's efforts but needs a better understanding of what's being proposed.

"We encourage fulsome discussion and access to information to address the issues that Albertans continue to raise such as costs, service delivery and improved rural policing," the statement said.

All mayors said they're happy with the service provided by the RCMP, but they're not against making improvements.

But first, Brown says, their questions need to be answered.

"The government, including the premier, has always said municipalities are partners. Well, we certainly haven't been a partner in this conversation."