By Cole Parkinson
Discussions around what direction the province is heading in with policing has left the Municipal District of Taber in search of more answers.
After council discussed the issue during their March 15 meeting, an invitation was sent to Jason Schneider, Vulcan County deputy reeve and Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) board director, for discussion on what has been discussed so far.
As Schneider also sits on the Alberta Police Advisory Board, he gave an update to council at their regular meeting held March 23.
The advisory board is comprised of four RMA members, four Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) members and one Alberta Association of Police Governance member.
As a board, the first year’s goal is to develop the structure and scope of the Advisory Board and after that, the work of the Operational Police Advisory Board will begin for a four-year term.
“Originally, when we were told we were going to be sharing the cost with the province for our policing, we were all asking ‘what are we going to get for it. If we’re going to be paying for it, we want a say.’ To the rurals, it was promised they’d make this police advisory board and I seem to recall, at one time, they were talking about making multiple ones,” explained Schneider.
With both AUMA and RMA members on the board, Schneider explained rural municipality needs were a lot different than the larger Alberta centres.
“We’re dealing with different issues than in Wetaskiwin or Okotoks,” he continued. “They are looking at how to make things better, so their priorities are let’s do school police resource officers and let’s give our people more training in this or that area. It’s a lot more of improvements they are looking for — while it’s most, if not all, of the rurals are more looking for boots on the ground. We just need to be able to bring our service up to a level that is acceptable because right now, during the night, it’s pretty easy targets for most of us rural municipalities because police officers are on call.”
As both sides are bringing different aspects to discussions, it has slowed down the progress.
“It’s a bit of an uneven playing field, which makes it frustrating when you’re trying to do your priorities because the AUMA has different priorities than the rurals. That is going to be an ongoing challenge and why we haven’t made as much progress as initially anticipated because our priorities are quite different,” added Schneider.
While municipalities who had not paid for their policing in the past are now doing so, it has brought forward questions around when more officers would arrive in rural Alberta.
The RCMP has seen an influx of new members, but few have been heading south.
“All the ones who weren’t paying before, are now paying the province for the RCMP service they are providing for us. We were promised there would be more resources and the money we were putting in wasn’t paying their portion, this was for additional resources. Right now, they have scheduled to have 76 regular RCMP positions put into place and 57 civilian positions,” continued Schneider. “To date, 63 of the regular RCMP positions have been filled. Forty-six (RCMP positions), they are stating are for rural detachments, and 30 are centralized. Bad news for us in the south, that doesn’t apply to us. There are no new officers being allocated south of Airdrie. These positions are elsewhere in the province. Does that mean we will get some in the future? I hope so.”
As far as financials given to the province from municipalities for policing, Schneider touched on a few numbers provided.
“I wouldn’t say these numbers are 100 per cent accurate, in my opinion, but it’s showing what money is going towards. About $15.4 million is about what smaller urban and rurals are contributing this year. Next year, that goes up to $26.7 million. Of course, that is an increase of $11 million and change. You would think there would be more officers hitting the ground, but as far as how that all looks — that’s in the negotiation stage between the province, the RCMP and the interim board, as to how they want to see those resources allocated.”
A large portion of council’s prior discussions were around the move to a provincial police force.
In asking Schneider if those discussions had reached the board yet, he explained so far the focus has solely been on the RCMP.
“In particular, this was just for the RCMP,” he answered. “Our mandate is to work with the RCMP, but there are some people who want to talk about policing in general.”
“If it was up to me, I’d start this all over and have a holistic discussion around policing, as a whole,” stated Coun. John Turcato. “Take all of the titles out and decide where all of these pieces are going to fit in the future because we’re duplicating services here. And there was a time where we could afford to duplicate services because we were flush with cash, but that time has long since passed. We need to be more efficient and I think we have too many levels of law enforcement doing the same minor tasks.”
Schneider agreed further conversations on the direction of policing in the province are needed.
“It is two different discussions and I think your comments blend well into this provincial police discussion and how that should be going,” he said. “The provincial police force was sprung out of the fair deal panel and one of the recommendations was to look at a provincial police force. So that sent this government into motion.”
Schneider explained a $2 million contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers was signed last October to bring forward a report and review on the feasibility of a provincial police force.
After sitting on one of the stakeholder engagement sessions, he says no talks around financials have been brought forward.
“They (sessions) were interesting. The first one, they did not want to talk about costs at all, which is the elephant in the room. Everybody is worried about what this will cost. If it’s going to cost the exact same and we’ll get something better, then let’s have that discussion. If it’s going to cost way more, maybe this is a discussion we don’t want to have.”
When the report is finally finished later this year, AUMA and RMA are asking for it to be available to the public.
“They haven’t committed to that yet, which I sure hope they do because if the government is going to be using this to make decisions, we all need an opportunity to look at it,” added Schneider.
Across the country, only Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have their own provincial police forces.
Despite the talks of establishing a provincial police force in Alberta, M.D. council voiced their support of the local RCMP detachment.
“I think I can speak on behalf of council the M.D. of Taber is pleased and happy with the service and level of service we have with our local RCMP detachment,” said Reeve Merrill Harris.
Schneider echoed how great the RCMP have been throughout the board’s discussions.
“I will say through this whole process, the RCMP have been really good. Whatever we need (for) information, they have gone above and beyond to help us. Is some of it trying to justify their own existence? Maybe, but regardless, they have been very willing participants through this.”