Towns question potential provincial policing plan

·5 min read

Municipalities continue to voice their opposition to a provincial police force and Hinton Mayor Marcel Michaels questions how the provincial government plans to fund this service.

No decision has been made, but the province believes an independent report shows that creating an Alberta provincial police service is realistic, cost-effective, and worth serious further consideration.

While the report may see a provincial service as a good move, Michaels indicated that a better look at the current police service, finding its shortcomings, and perhaps working on improvements with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is more prudent.

“I think it’s interesting to see some of the numbers as part of the report. An initial cost of $366M over the first five years to transition raises a lot of questions,” Michaels said.

Alberta’s government hired PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada in October 2020 to study the feasibility of replacing the RCMP in Alberta with a provincial police service, in response to a Fair Deal Panel recommendation.

PwC Canada’s report, released Oct. 29, includes a provincial model with more front-line personnel in communities at a total cost equal to, or lower than, the total cost of the RCMP contract policing model in Alberta.

Forfeiting federal funds, plus the initial transition cost, and any remaining unknowns without increasing the costs to municipalities and the taxpayers doesn’t add up and Michaels said he would like to see the entire equation. Where are the savings, he questioned.

Kaycee Madu, Alberta’s minister of Justice and Solicitor General, said he was confident the provincial police service would cost less than the current RCMP model. With no increased cost to municipalities or a tax increase, he did not say how the province would make up for lost federal funds.

The report states that Alberta would pay between $734M and $759M annually for a provincial police service, with transition costs estimated to be $366M over a six-year period.

In response, Irfan Sabir, NDP critic for Jhustice, stated that almost $200M in federal funding will be given up if moved to a provincial force.

“On top of this, the UCP’s own report says it will cost $366M in up-front transition costs alone. So while the minister twists himself into knots to claim there will not be any additional costs for Albertans, this is simply not true,” Sabir said.

The total cost of RCMP services in Alberta throughout the 2019-2020 fiscal year was just under $672M. Alberta pays $318M towards that cost, while municipalities contribute $175M, and the federal government provides $170M.

“While we are unable to comment on specific details from the report at this time, we are concerned that some important questions may not have been asked by PwC, and therefore, 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,” stated an Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) news release on Oct. 29.

AUMA spokesperson, Tanya Thorne, said Albertans need to be consulted on this issue and AUMA recommends that a referendum be held just as Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney promised in 2019.

“Our position is that if all Albertans are going to pay for this transition from the RCMP to a provincial police service, then all Albertans should be able to express their vote,” stated Scott Lundy, AUMA communications manager.

AUMA’s annual convention and trade show was held last week. One resolution spoke to the accountability and transparency of the new Police Funding Model, but no resolutions addressed the potential provincial police service.

The new provincial police model in the report proposes changes to service delivery and governance to better address root causes of crime through partnerships with mental health and addictions professionals. The model also proposes provincial police commissions to increase accountability and ensure a governance role for indigenous people. The key is enhanced community policing with increased emphasis on local recruiting and retention.

The report found a provincial police department would increase the number of front-line officers to 4,189 from 4,030.

“During my rural crime tour this summer, rural Albertans made it clear that they are deeply concerned about crime in their communities. PwC Canada has developed a policing model that could address long-standing concerns about response times in rural areas and put more boots on the ground. We’re eager to share these innovative and thought-provoking ideas with stakeholders and hear their thoughts over the coming months,” stated Madu, during a press conference on Oct. 29.

He said a provincial service would be more responsive than the RCMP, would better integrate operations, and would train officers locally.

The Alberta government will conduct an extensive stakeholder engagement beginning in late November, including meetings with municipalities, First Nations and Métis communities, law enforcement organizations, and public safety partners such as victims services organizations and rural crime watch groups. There will also be a public survey in early 2022.

Rural municipalities have called on Madu to drop the provincial police idea and a survey conducted by the government’s Fair Deal Panel suggested only 35 per cent of Albertans support it.

Kenney told Albertans in 2019 that his government would not decide to establish a provincial police service unless a majority of Albertans endorsed it through a referendum. A referendum on this issue was not included in the 2021 municipal election.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice

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