The Alberta NDP is criticizing the United Conservative Party’s decision to launch a new website to push for a new provincial police force.
The Alberta government launched the website on Wednesday, saying it will provide the public with information about the benefits of having a provincial police service. The site also aims to consult and connect with Albertans directly about this issue, according to a news release.
This comes after more than 70 rural Alberta municipalities sent a letter in June asking Premier Jason Kenney to stop plans to create a provincial police force. The municipalities said the government lost the trust of its constituents by not being open and transparent about consultations.
Others, including the union that represents the Royal Canadian Mountain Police, raised concerns about the issue in the past.
“People want this government to focus on addressing crime… The Alberta municipalities asked the government to focus on crime and not political games,” justice critic Irfan Sabir said at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday.
“They’re not listening to anyone.”
Paul McLauchlin, president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said a lot of political and social resources are required to create a new provincial police force.
“It’s a very complex thing to start your own police force. Both the workforce creation as well as the institution and policy pieces are so complex, my members just weren’t convinced given the information that was shared up to now,” McLauchlin said.
“We have workforce issues as it is… North American police forces are having a very tough time hiring folks.”
McLauchlin agrees that Albertans should be part of the decision-making process, however.
“Albertans need to decide if this is a good idea,” he said. “Maybe this will be a plebiscite in the next election and Albertans, rural Albertan specifically, can speak to this.”
But the government maintains that a provincial police service would improve governance and give municipalities more opportunities to set their own policing priorities.
The provincial government’s Fair Deal Panel recommended the creation of a provincial police force in 2020, saying the RCMP has become too bureaucratically inflexible and smaller communities aren’t getting enough front-line officers.
A report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year said it will cost Alberta hundreds of millions of dollars more to set up and run a provincial police force, but it ultimately could provide better service. Shared cost savings and other initiatives would allow for more front-line officers to be hired, the report said.
“Several provinces and municipalities” that use the RCMP for policing are also considering alternative policing models, according to the Alberta government, but none were specified.
“People wanted to have a more robust conversation… It’s a popular idea. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve been having this conversation in Alberta since I was in high school and I’m now in my mid-40s,” Justice Minister Tyler Shandro told Global News on Wednesday.
Shandro also said there is a diverse range of opinions on this issue.
“The opinions of municipal leaders throughout the province are mixed, so it’s definitely not a unanimous take,” Shandro said.
–With files from Global News’ Emily Mertz and Karen Bartko.