While several leading candidates in the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race are throwing their support behind the creation of a provincial police force, Alberta municipalities say there remain far too many unanswered questions, and rural municipalities have rejected the idea.
This week, the Alberta Government launched a website entitled, "Exploring an Alberta Provincial Police Service" to provide the public with information on the proposal. It's also a common topic being addressed by UCP leadership candidates.
Cochrane Mayor Jeff Genung, who chairs the Alberta Mid-sized Cities Mayor's Caucus, says as of yet no stance has been taken by the caucus or Cochrane town council. Both have been discussing the issue.
"We have questions around what are we giving up, and what are we getting. What are the costs going to be? What style of policing is there going to be? I've been to a few education sessions put on by the province, and really I've left with just more questions."
The mayor's caucus also held a Zoom meeting with Curtis Zablocki, deputy commissioner of the RCMP "K" Division, in late January to gain their perspective on the question.
Whether or not a provincial police force is established, he's not convinced there's a perfect solution. But he has seen some positive changes being made by the RCMP because of the discussions.
"They've looked at some of the complaints or some of the gaps in some of their service delivery level and they're starting to address some of those. At the end of the day, if we're to going see some improvements from the RCMP, that's a great thing."
"It's going to be a difficult decision to make, especially since now the RCMP have gone union and we've been handed that increase in the retro pay from the federal government, so it's going to be an expensive, interesting dilemma we're faced with as Albertans."
Genung says Cochrane has received a preliminary estimate of what that retro pay will cost local ratepayers, but as of yet hasn't received a final bill from the federal government. The Alberta Municipalities association is advocating on behalf of municipalities to have the federal government pick up the cost of the retroactive costs of the new agreement.
Mayor Genung takes no issue with the agreement reached but says municipalities were blindsided by not being directly involved in negotiations.
The provincial government’s Fair Deal Panel recommended the creation of a provincial police force last year, saying the RCMP has become too bureaucratically inflexible and smaller communities aren’t getting enough front-line officers.
While visiting Cochrane, UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith supported the creation of a provincial police force to replace the RCMP.
The general public, however, appears leery of the idea. A poll conducted by Pollara on behalf of the National Police Federation indicates that 70 per cent of those polled opposed replacing the RCMP, and 80 per cent expressed satisfaction with current RCMP policing.
The Rural Municipalities association says no way, preferring to provide more resources to the RCMP to right rural crime. They call the autonomy card a red herring.
At the Alberta Municipalities spring leaders caucus, 81 per cent of delegates opposed the provincial police model, urged the province to invest in the resources to reduce crime, and called for a referendum to be held on the question.