RCMP back pay bill has Alberta municipalities looking to Ottawa for millions

·3 min read
Police say human remains found near Happy Valley-Goose Bay have been identified as 22-year-old Faith Rich. (David Bell/CBC - image credit)
Police say human remains found near Happy Valley-Goose Bay have been identified as 22-year-old Faith Rich. (David Bell/CBC - image credit)

The new RCMP collective agreement was ratified in August but now Alberta municipalities on the hook for back pay are looking for answers, ultimately hoping the federal government will pick up the bill.

As part of the agreement, officers are due up to five years of back pay. As it stands, the 47 municipalities across the province that use the police force will have to shell out millions, which many see as unfair because they don't set salaries and weren't at the bargaining table.

In Okotoks, Coun. Tanya Thorn said they are on the hook for $1 million in back pay alone. While there's no question, RCMP was underpaid when compared to their counterparts, Thorn said that's on the feds — not the municipalities.

"It wasn't something any of us were in the position to mitigate," Thorn said. "I couldn't go to my RCMP department and say, 'I'm going to pay you guys more.' I don't have that ability. That's where the challenge with the whole thing comes."

For the town to cover the increased cost, Thorn said they would need to raise taxes by at least four per cent for this budget item, which doesn't take into account other projects or needs the town has like replacing water pipelines, or building a new arena.

"I've had two years with a zero per cent tax increase through COVID, so for me to go to my community and do a four per cent tax increase that only actually addresses police retroactive pay," Thorn said. "It's not palatable."

Thorn said they are already anticipating a tax increase this year, because of the pandemic tax freezes.

Letter writing campaign to target feds

The issue is on both the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and Federation of Canadian Municipalities advocacy agendas.

Cathy Heron, St. Albert mayor and director with the AUMA, says they've already met with Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and launched a letter-writing campaign to help municipalities ask the federal government to reconsider.

"This is a significant hit," Heron said. "I would say a lot of municipal governments do not have the fiscal capacity to cover this pay increases retroactively."

In St. Albert, Heron said they did anticipate some increased costs and set up a reserve. But the cash set aside was less than $1 million — shy of the $3 million it will cost the city in retroactive pay.

Another reason to research provincial police force, official says

"I'm not sure anyone expected such a giant hit. The fiscal reality for municipalities is not looking good," she said.

Alberta Justice and Solicitor's General's office spokesperson Jason van Rassel wrote the new RCMP collective agreement will have considerable financial implications for its policing clients.

"We are still determining the precise financial impact, but we believe the agreement will increase policing costs by approximately 20 per cent over the life of the contract," van Rassel said.

Because the collective agreement deliberations happened without the policing clients, van Rassel said the Government of Alberta believes the federal government should be responsible for the retroactive portion of the contract.

"The outcome of this process also underscores why Alberta's government is studying the feasibility of establishing a provincial police service to replace the RCMP," van Rassel said.

In a statement, Public Safety Canada said the provinces knew the salaries were frozen for five years.

"With ratification, individual contract jurisdictions are best placed to undertake the financial analysis required and to advise regarding the annual increase they are required to pay as a result of this collective agreement," it read.

"As territories, provinces or municipalities determine policing models and budgets, they are best placed to provide information on the impacts that will result from this collective agreement."

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