Alberta’s UCP government promised Wednesday to help the City of Grande Prairie cover the bill to replace the RCMP with its own police service, while Alberta continues to mull the possibility of doing the same.
Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis insisted no final decision has been made to “launch an Alberta Police Service (APS)” despite the fact his November mandate letter from Premier Danielle Smith instructed him to help Justice Minister Tyler Shandro do so.
The Mounties policing contract in Alberta is up in 2032 and the UCP government has been considering a provincial force for years.
“One of the scenarios would be that the RCMP may not wish to continue policing in Alberta. And it would be negligent of me and anyone in government to not be prepared for that,” Ellis said at the Wednesday announcement in Grande Prairie.
“So making sure that we are exploring all options: whether it be municipal, regional or even an Alberta police service model, we have to explore these things.”
A Grande Prairie city council committee met Tuesday night to discuss a municipal police service, with further discussion to come on March 6.
Ellis denied his UCP was meddling in a municipal decision by holding an announcement and committing funds before a final council vote.
“They had a poll, I think it was. Was it a poll? A city engagement, which is the people of Grande Prairie were very supportive of this initiative and, you know, like any other jurisdiction, we’re listening to what you have to say and happy to support whatever your needs are,” Ellis said.
“Today totally shows the government of Alberta is behind this decision. This is not the province meddling in our decision, it’s supporting an opportunity for us,” Mayor Jackie Clayton added.
A council presentation prepared by consulting group MNP pegged the five-year cost to phase in a Grande Prairie police service at $169 million, roughly $19 million more than staying with RCMP.
Both the Alberta Municipalities and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta have voted against creating an Alberta police service, which a government report said would cost $366 million to start and $235 million more a year to operate than the RCMP.
Ellis said some local leaders have spoken to him in support of an APS. Others, he said, want their own local police and some want to stick with the Mounties.
“We have to be able to empower municipalities so that they can make decisions that are in the best interests of their needs,” Ellis said.
“And quite frankly, if there are some municipalities that are deeply committed to the RCMP, all the more power to them. We’re going to support whatever the needs are for them and their communities.”
The MNP report for Grande Prairie stated 45 police and 29 peace officers could be deployed as part of a new service by next year with the number of police rising to “full capacity” of 100 by 2027.
Sworn RCMP officers could be phased out from 104 now to zero by 2027.
‘THE BIGGEST COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT WE’VE HAD’
A survey of Grande Prairie residents found people want more officers, an increased focus on property and organized drug crimes as well as a greater emphasis on tackling the root causes of crime.
It also said the “current police are viewed as a net positive” and didn’t specifically poll residents if they want to replace the RCMP or not.
“This was the biggest community engagement we’ve had in city history, with hundreds upon hundreds of residents taking part,” Coun. Dylan Bressey said.
“Regardless if we move forward with a municipal service or if we keep on with RCMP there’s always the ability to enhance the policing that we’re delivering to our residents right now.”
The president of the National Police Federation, which represents nearly 20,000 RCMP officers, cast doubt on the cost estimates in the MNP report and argued the process is moving too fast for Grande Prairie residents to review and understand it.
“We have already seen low-ball transition costing promises before in cities like Surrey, BC, and the reality is that taxpayers end up shouldering a significantly higher amount for both startup and future annual operating costs,” Brian Sauvé wrote in a Thursday statement.
“The lack of a feasibility study to examine all areas of concern and possible costs caused the City of Surrey to increase property taxes by 11% to pay for the transition and future operating costs.”
The Alberta NDP said the party will respect Grande Prairie council’s decision on what to do with local policing, but if elected in May will scrap any plans for an Alberta force.
“Instead of keeping Albertans safe, Danielle Smith is focused on imposing hundreds of millions of dollars of new costs onto struggling Alberta families to pay for a UCP provincial police force that nobody wants,” justice critic Irfan Sabir wrote in a statement.
A political scientist said polls show Alberta at large does not support a provincial police force, but UCP members do.
“This isn’t about rural crime. This isn’t about faster response rates. This is really about establishing autonomy from Ottawa,” said Duane Bratt from Mount Royal University.
“And so even if it’s not a provincial police force, if they can remove the RCMP bit by bit, this is something the provincial government supports.”
Bratt said one way the UCP can convince local governments to support replacing RCMP officers is by making up any cost difference and he’s interested to see if more funding announcements are forthcoming.
Ellis said he was open to providing “additional supports” to other municipalities to make sure response times are adequate and officers have backup when they need it.
If Grande Prairie moves ahead with a new police service, notice to the federal government could be provided by March 31.
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