Premier’s provincial police pitch gets cool reception from rural leaders

Premier Jason Kenney’s pitch to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force fell flat at a meeting of rural leaders Friday, with the president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta calling the idea a distraction.

Paul McLauchlin, the reeve of Ponoka County, said rural leaders want changes to how the justice system deals with repeat offenders who commit the majority of crimes in their counties and municipal districts. 

“The badge, the car colour, all those things … are a distraction from what we’re hearing from the people that I represent,” he said. 

McLauchlin said he wanted to spend more of his energy discussing judicial reform. 

Kenney’s speech at the RMA convention in Edmonton came one day after the National Police Federation, the union representing RCMP members, released a survey suggesting Albertans aren’t interested in switching to a provincial police service. 

The survey showed 80 per cent of respondents living in areas policed by the RCMP were very or somewhat satisfied with the service they received. Only nine per cent favoured moving to a provincial force. 

In his 32-minute address, Kenney acknowledged many rural politicians worry about the costs of such a transition but said it was still an idea worth looking at.

He urged delegates to read the PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by his government. 

The report estimates the cost of a transition to be between $366 million to $371 million. The province would also lose about $170 million the federal government gives Alberta for RCMP policing. The report says the new provincial force would have four per cent more officers. 

Kenney said his government will consult more with municipalities before making a decision. He promised municipalities wouldn’t get stuck with the bill if costs go up. 

“Any incremental costs would be adopted exclusively by the province and not by municipalities,” Kenney said. “That’s our commitment to you.”

Savings? More service?

Tom Burton, a councillor with the Municipal District of Greenview, said he worked with RCMP officers when he was the fire chief of a volunteer fire department. Many factors hinder the RCMP’s ability to police rural areas, he said. 

Burton said he is still on the fence about the merits of a provincial police force. 

“Will there be a savings in the cost?” he asked. “Will levels of service increase?”

Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet, the NDP critic for agriculture, forestry and rural economic development, said rural leaders have been telling the opposition for months that they aren’t interested in ditching the RCMP.

“The fact that the premier has to come to a conference and try to sell the changing from the RCMP to a provincial police force should tell him very clearly that rural municipality leaders do not want this change,” she said. 

One issue rural municipalities have raised is the lack of EMS coverage in more remote areas of the province. 

In his address, Kenney said calls for service increased 30 per cent over the summer due to opioid poisonings and the fourth wave of COVID-19. He said Health Minister Jason Copping is working on a plan to address the situation. 

McLauchlin said RMA members feel there has been little action from the province. 

“We’d really love this government to recognize this as a crisis and get moving forward on that issue,” McLauchlin said.

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