SUNDRE — The municipality has -- following a split vote -- decided to join the ranks of other communities throughout Alberta who are expressing opposition to the UCP government’s proposed plan to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force.
The matter was discussed on March 8 during council’s regular meeting conducted by teleconference, when a copy of correspondence from the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass addressed to Minister of Justice Kaycee Madu was considered.
The letter, signed by Municipality of Crownest Pass Mayor Blair Painter, unequivocally expressed opposition to the government’s initiative.
“We do not understand why the province would forge ahead with this process when the Fair Deal Panel survey results clearly showed that 65 per cent of respondents did not support this idea,” reads a portion of Painter’s statement.
“These are tangible results from a provincial survey which need to be recognized by the province as a negative response, and a clear indicator by the people of this province that the majority is not in favour of a provincial police force.”
The letter goes on to outline concerns about the “staggering costs” that would be involved, arguing that financial burden alone should act as “a deterrent to even consider proceeding.
“Municipalities across this province are struggling to determine how they will absorb the costs for the existing police funding model and should not be expected to consider facing additional expenses for an initiative that is unwanted and appears to have no ceiling where potential costs are concerned.”
Recognizing his municipality could not speak on behalf of other communities throughout Alberta, Painter also expressed full support for the RCMP.
“We find that the unique circumstances due to our location has fostered highly collaborative relationships between the detachments serving southeastern British Columbia and those serving our neighbouring communities in southwestern Alberta,” he wrote.
“We cannot foresee that the dollars invested would result in an increased level of policing over and above the service we receive now.”
While correspondence that is sent to the municipality is frequently simply accepted as information by council, there are instances such as this one when an issue prompts further discussion to take action.
Expressing solidarity with the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, Coun. Rob Wolfe motioned to draft a letter to the province in support of the RCMP.
“The government is coming out with their report some time in April. They have no clue where this money is going to come from,” said Wolfe.
“And with all the downloading that the government has been doing to municipalities now and in the future, I just don’t feel that our taxpayers should be put on the hook for additional downloads when 65 per cent of Albertans are not in favour of this.”
Coun. Cheri Funke said she wasn’t sure whether her comment would be in favour or opposition to the motion.
“I just was wondering if it would be beneficial if we had a discussion on policing at the next council meeting so that we can put all of this information together, and then write a letter,” said Funke.
As a point of order, mayor Terry Leslie said a motion was already on the floor to draft a letter, and added an alternate course of action could be taken should the motion not pass.
Coun. Richard Warnock spoke in favour of the motion to send a letter of opposition sooner rather than later.
“We have enough information based on the basics that’s in this letter,” said Warnock.
“I think that delaying it for two weeks before we send it in could make a negative impact on their decision making. Because we don’t want the province to make the decision before municipalities get in their letters of objection.”
The councillor added the item should be included for further discussion during the upcoming spring workshop.
“Further action may be required,” he said.
Coun. Charlene Preston spoke against the motion, arguing the subject was too important to make a decision on in just one night.
“If we have to call a special council meeting, I think that this certainly would be a topic in order for that,” said Preston, adding such a letter should be the result of a council brainstorming session as opposed to a loose re-write of another municipality’s correspondence.
Although Coun. Todd Dalke supported writing a letter, he agreed with Funke and Preston that more information was needed before proceeding.
The mayor spoke in favour of the motion, taking a stance similar to Warnock.
“We’ve all had the opportunity to have a look at what the possibilities might be,” said Leslie, adding that as the Crownest Pass council has already pointed out, a substantial majority of Albertans have indicated they object to replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force.
“Personally, I currently feel our RCMP service is exceptional,” he said.
With institutional structures the RCMP has in place for recruitment, training and specialized units, combined with the fact criminals move not only throughout rural Alberta but even the country, the mayor argued there already exists an exceptional network of dedicated police officers serving their communities.
“I haven’t seen any credible evidence to support moving to a provincial police force,” the mayor said.
Going through each councillor’s vote, the motion narrowly carried with Funke, Preston and Dalke opposed, while Coun. Paul Isaac, Warnock, Wolfe and mayor Leslie voted in favour.
Painter's complete letter to Madu is available online in council's agenda package for the March 8 meeting.