Provinces contracting their provincial policing to the RCMP is an outdated practice and prevents us from moving forward with the type of modern police governance and civilian oversight which Canadians expect and deserve.
Those who defend contract policing want us to believe that this is a new conversation, that it’s only happening in Alberta, and this idea began with the United Conservative Party. All of which are false.
This is a conversation which started three decades ago. It started with a paper drafted by the late Stan Grier (a former RCMP officer who later became the Chief of the Piikani Nation) for then-Premier Ralph Klein. We’ve been discussing this in Alberta since.
It’s also a national conversation. Most, if not all, of the seven provinces that still contract policing to the RCMP are also looking at getting out. It’s also why leading voices nationally on the subject, like Ken Roach, a professor at the University of Toronto, and Richard Fadden, former director of CSIS and the former National Security advisor to the Prime Minister, have advocated for ending contract policing in Canada.
Public Safety Canada has been saying publicly that they’ve been looking at getting the RCMP out of contract policing for provinces. They want out of their obligation of paying the provinces the 30 per cent subsidy and want the RCMP to focus on the core mandate: federal policing, such as cybercrime, organized crime, and border integrity.
This is also not a UCP idea. Or a conservative one. In fact, it’s non-partisan. As an example, an all-party committee of NDP, Liberal and Green MLAs in British Columbia issued a report with a recommendation to get B.C. out of contract policing, because they saw the importance of improving police governance and having the RCMP focus on core functions.
The police services and commissions already existing in Alberta, like Calgary’s, show us that community policing works. It’s odd that a former chair of a police commission, like Brian Thiessen, would argue against other Alberta communities having the same benefits Calgarians get from the independent civilian oversight through the Calgary Police Commission.
No change to policing should indeed be made for the sake of fighting with the federal government. If that’s the only reason, contract policing should be left alone. The safety of our communities is too important to be used as a pawn in jurisdictional arguments.
It’s also important that this conversation isn’t a criticism or attack on the RCMP. Our women and men in uniform deserve our respect for keeping our communities safe. They do their jobs with distinction and honour. The problem is with the agreement, which exempts the RCMP from modern police governance, not with our frontline officers.
The reason for getting out of contract policing is that we need policing agencies in our communities which aren’t exempt from the Alberta Police Act, and that allow us in Alberta to set and change policing policies and budgets. Merely “advising” the RCMP of our “priorities”, as currently is the case, is outdated and not what Canadians expect in policing accountability.
We need high-volume forensics (like ballistics) to be done in Alberta and not shipped out of province so that our officers and courts are waiting for those results to be triaged on a national basis. We need our real-time databases to be fully integrated and co-operating. We need ALERT, the provincial agency which co-ordinates inter-municipal policing, to be fully implemented across the province. We need local accountability to ensure that the RCMP doesn’t leave 15 per cent of positions, which Alberta taxpayers fund, left unfilled.
Another trope of those who defend contract policing is their claim that a provincial service would be more expensive. This is false. While we should continue to invest in our policing budgets to ensure our policing agencies have the resources they need to keep our communities safe, the model proposed by PwC in their Transition Study would have less spent on a provincial service than what is spent on the RCMP.
The question though is whether Alberta would lose our subsidy from the federal government if we no longer contracted with them. Ontario and Quebec don’t get such a subsidy, so we likely wouldn’t continue to receive the 30 per cent subsidy.
Defenders of contract policing though ignore that the cost of the current contract was unilaterally increased by the federal government by 20 per cent with zero consultation with provinces or municipalities. And the federal government will increase it significantly again before the contract ends in 2032. What good is a 30 per cent subsidy if you have no say in the total amount?
The subsidy also has a shelf life. When the current contract, which was signed in 2012, began to be negotiated, the federal government’s opening position was that the subsidy had to end. While the seven provinces were successful in keeping the subsidy, the federal government has made it clear that they want it to end in 2032.
For transition costs, we have to remember that much of the estimated $366 million in those five years would continue to be spent on operating and capital expenditures for the RCMP anyway if we continued with contract policing. Every piece of equipment and building used by the RCMP is funded by the Government of Alberta by 70 per cent, and our current capital account with the RCMP has a significant amount sitting left unspent.
Alberta had a provincial police service before. In 1917, when the federal government withdrew the North-West Mounted Police from the Prairies, Alberta had a short period to establish its first provincial service, which lasted until the 1930s when the economic situation for Alberta meant we couldn’t continue with our own service. Alberta needs to be prepared for the possibility of needing to establish a provincial service and not being caught flat-footed again.
And to be prepared, we need a conversation in Alberta based on facts.
Tyler Shandro is the former Minister of Justice and Solicitor General for the province of Alberta, a former member of the Calgary Police Commission, and a former member of the Parole Board of Canada.