The RCMP have been a fixture of rural policing for generations, but the police force’s future in Alberta is now unclear as the provincial government weighs the pros and cons of creating its own police force.
Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government is currently deciding next steps after the the release of a third-party review into the matter last year.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report, released by the government almost a month ago, says it currently costs Alberta about $500 million a year for the RCMP.
The federal government chips in $170 million under a cost-sharing agreement.
The report says if Alberta decides to go it alone, it would cost about $735 million each year, on top of $366 million in startup costs.
But support for the RCMP’s future in Alberta was voiced in Lethbridge on Wednesday, as the National Police Federation stopped in the city as part of its “Keep Alberta RCMP” engagement tour.
“It’s good to take a look at any product that you’re getting — every once in a while — to make sure that you’re getting the best bang for your buck, so we encourage these sorts of reviews,” said NPF regional director Kevin Halwa.
“Can improvements be made? Absolutely. But I don’t think that starting over with a new provincial police service is the best way to do it.”
Lethbridge County Reeve Tory Campbell said the idea is not a popular one among rural municipalities in the province.
“When we were at a convention in November, it was asked, you know, ‘Stand up if you want to keep the RCMP,’ and there weren’t many people sitting,” Campbell said.
“It was pretty overwhelming the amount of support that was in the room, and I think that we continue to share that when we can — when we have the ear of elected officials — and we will continue to do that.”
The reeve shared a statement with county residents on the municipality’s website on Tuesday, explaining why he opposes the proposal.
Campbell said the risks associated with starting over just don’t make sense.
“To make this kind of a commitment and this much of a change and this much financial commitment to something that — we already have something that works,” he said.
“I think really, (this) just makes us scratch our heads a little bit.”
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General said the province continues to explore its options.
“Alberta’s government is studying the feasibility of establishing a provincial police service because we have a responsibility to explore whether a new policing model can improve public safety and find innovative ways of providing effective policing for everyone in Alberta, no matter where they live,” the statement reads.
The province is currently conducting stakeholder engagement on the topic, and plans to launch a public survey soon.
“We believe PwC Canada has ‘shown its work’ with innovative proposals and detailed cost estimates that make a realistic case for operating a provincial police service at the same overall cost, or lower, than the cost of RCMP provincial and municipal contract policing in Alberta,” the provincial government’s statement reads.
“The financial justification becomes even stronger when you consider the RCMP’s new collective agreement – which was negotiated without any meaningful involvement from the provincial, territorial or municipal governments that have policing contacts with the RCMP – will increase policing costs by approximately 20 per cent over the life of the contract.”
According to the province, engagement with municipalities, First Nations and Métis communities, law enforcement organizations and public safety partners such as victim services organizations and rural crime watch groups, is ongoing.