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Police force referendum a must, says Carstairs mayor

Any proposed plan to replace the RCMP must first go through provincial referendum prior to implementation, says Lance Colby
MVT Carstairs mayor Lance Colby
Mayor Lance Colby says any plan to create an Alberta provincial police force to replace the RCMP should go through a province-wide referendum prior to being implemented. File photo/MVP Staff

CARSTAIRS — Any plan to create an Alberta provincial police force to replace the RCMP should certainly go through a province-wide referendum prior to being implemented, says Carstairs mayor Lance Colby.

“I think they (the government) would have to poll the people in the province. That would be a must before it goes forward,” said Colby, a former Calgary police officer.

“I really think they need to do their research and check and see how people view it. I know a lot of the communities don’t want to see the RCMP leave.”

As well as holding a referendum, the government also needs to outline how a provincial force would not cost municipalities more than contracting the RCMP, he said.

“They need to be able to show the municipalities how this won’t affect us with more costs,” he said. “We need to know the costs and how they are going to not increase them by going provincial.

“You have to be very careful when you say yes to something unless you are absolutely sure of the cost. Right now, I don’t think the communities are well enough aware of the cost that it would take to have the RCMP transferred over to have a provincial force instead of the RCMP.”

The UCP government recently released the results of the government-commissioned PwC Canada feasibility study regarding the possible replacement of the RCMP by an Alberta provincial police service.

The study was undertaken following the recommendation of the government-sponsored Fair Deal Panel that an Alberta force be considered.

The government plans to conduct consultations, including a public survey in early 2022 and meetings with municipalities. Premier Jason Kenney has said publicly that a referendum will be held before a provincial police force is possibly created.

Dozens of rural municipalities, including in this region, have sent Justice Minister Kaycee Madu letters saying they prefer to retain the RCMP rather than see the creation of a provincial police force.

Angela Aalbers is the reeve of Mountain View County.

“Mountain View County council supports our RCMP and we have sent a letter to (Justice) Minister (Kaycee) Madu stating that explicitly,” Aalbers said. “From recent reports, our concerns of increased cost for a provincial police force were justified, with the potential loss of $170 million in federal funding annually and $366 million in transition costs.

“The transition study recently released was clear that direct engagement with the communities was not part of the scope of the study. Our council will hold our position until we receive further information which may warrant reconsidering in the future.”

County residents are encouraged to “get involved in the provincial engagement opportunities when they arise,” she said.

The PwC Canada study explored the operational needs, processes and potential transition costs of forming an Alberta force.

A provincial force would have several benefits over the existing arrangement with the RCMP, including improved service levels across rural and urban Alberta, improved community input and connections, and improved cost efficiency, says Kenney.

“This independent report makes a compelling case for creating a police service that’s designed by Albertans, for Albertans. Alberta’s government is committed to the safety and security of all Albertans, no matter where they live,” he said. 

The Official Opposition says the PwC report fails to address hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs for taxpayers should an Alberta force be created.

“Almost $200 million in federal funding will be given up if we move to a provincial force,” said Irfan Sabir, NDP justice critic. “On top of this, the UCP’s own report says it will cost $366 million in up-front transition costs alone. 

“Don’t forget that the UCP already dumped $286 million in additional costs on rural taxpayers through their new rural policing model. That will either mean less service or higher taxes for Albertans.”

If it forms the next government in 2023, the NDP will not pursue the idea of an Alberta police force, he said.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, which represents municipalities in this district, says a province-wide referendum on the Alberta police force issue is a must.

"The AUMA maintains that a fair and democratic referendum on the establishment of a provincial police service should occur if the government of Alberta decides it wants to go this route," said AUMA communications manager Scott Lundy. 

"If all Albertans must pay for something, then all Albertans must have a say in the decision."

Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills UCP MLA Nathan Cooper did not return a request for comment.

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