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Area municipal leaders have questions about police proposal

Alberta Justice and Solicitor General officials to meet with municipal leaders in Red Deer on Feb. 7
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Mayor Rhonda Hunter said the Town of Didsbury supports keeping RCMP in her municipality. File photo/MVP Staff

DIDSBURY - With area municipal leaders set to meet with Alberta Justice and Solicitor General officials next week to discuss the possible creation of an Alberta provincial police service, many questions remain unanswered about the proposal, says Town of Didsbury Mayor Rhonda Hunter and others.

“There certainly are a lot of gaps and many unanswered questions at this point,” said Hunter. “With our municipality already having made the statement that we prefer the RCMP as the provincial police force of choice, if they are trying to convince us otherwise there will have to be some good information.

“I hope when they talk about consulting with municipalities that is exactly what they are doing and they are listening to what we have to say about our (RCMP) detachments and about the service that is provided.

“There are so many municipalities that have already sent letters supporting the RCMP. We are very happy in our municipality with our detachment and many, many other municipalities have written letters in support of the RCMP.”

As part of consultations with stakeholders on the provincial police service issue, area municipal leaders will meet with department officials in Red Deer on Feb. 7. The meeting is not open to the public or media.

The UCP government-directed Fair Deal Panel recommended that the province examine the possibility of creating an Alberta police force. 

Following up on that recommendation, the government commissioned a feasibility report prepared by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC). Released last fall the report’s authors examined such things as operational needs, potential transition costs, governance models and service delivery options for a provincial police service.

Premier Jason Kenney says an Alberta provincial police force would be more accountable to residents and would not cost more than the existing system with the RCMP; critics say the plan does not have the support of Albertans and should be shelved.

The 270-member Alberta Municipalities recently hosted a virtual summit to consider the PwC viability report and the provincial police service proposal. More than 400 local government officials, including mayors and councillors, attended the two-hour event.

Following the meeting, Alberta Municipalities said the government needs to answer many questions regarding the possible creation of a provincial police service.

“We  are concerned the provincial government’s policing review does not deal with the major drivers of crime in Alberta,” said association president Cathy Heron. 

“Rather than spend an estimated $360 million to transition from the RCMP to a new force, the government of Alberta could choose to invest appropriately in the province's affordable housing, mental health and addictions, and just systems.”

In analyzing the PwC report, Alberta Municipalities says it has identified many other questions members would like answered, including the following:

• Why hasn’t the provincial government already implemented many of the PwC-suggested policing improvements, under its current policing arrangements with the RCMP, including integration of health and family services, effective performance metrics, and effective police governance and independent commission?

• Establishing Alberta policing priorities, what would be different in the provincial police service model compared to the RCMP arrangement? And why?

• Although Alberta policing costs may decrease by $24 million or three per cent with an provincial police service, how is the provincial government going to access the $170 million of lost funding from the federal government?

• How is the provincial government going to fund the $366 million of provincial police service one-time transition costs?

Alberta Municipalities says it has also identified a number of what it calls “key gaps” in the PwC report.

“While the PwC report touches on the need to develop and make use of police commission and committees under governance structure, it does little to consider structures that already exist,” she said.

“At a local level, communities already set up their own police committees or commissions to review performance, set goals, call our community engagement and seek input that would result in improved service delivery and crime reduction.”

Mayor Hunter says the province must consult directly with residents on the provincial police service issue.

“It is their responsibility to consult with residents,” said Hunter. “Absolutely we have to have a referendum on this issue, as premier Kenney has indicated he will do. While we appreciate they are reaching out to elected officials, residents have a say and they really need to be included in that consultation.

“If the majority aren’t happy with this proposal, the government really needs to listen to that.”

In an email to the Albertan, Alberta Justice spokesperson Jason van Rassel said the public will have an opportunity to provide input through an upcoming online survey.

“After the engagement sessions and survey, the government will analyze the information that’s been gathered and determine next steps,” said van Rassel.