RCMP or provincial police? That's the complicated decision facing Albertans on whether it's viable or desirable to establish a provincial force to replace the RCMP's front-line work in most communities, including Cochrane.

Mayor Jeff Genung believes it's time for town council to become fully engaged in the discussion. He's been involved in a flurry of initial meetings over the past two weeks on the issue.

"Not that we haven't been watching this or being involved, but I think council needs to get engaged now and go to some of these sessions. There are going to be questions and surveys coming out from the province."

"We need to be educated and understand the costs to municipalities, what is the level of police we are contemplating, is it apples to apples... there's just a lot of information we need to get up to speed on."

In October 2020, the Alberta Government commissioned Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) to explore the feasibility of replacing the RCMP in Alberta with a provincial police service. It followed the recommendation of the Fair Deal Panel report that Alberta should actively consider the establishment of its own force.

One year later, the PwC report concluded a provincial police report is realistic, cost-effective, and worth serious further consideration.

Now a series of engagement sessions have been scheduled by the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor Generals to share the report, answer questions from stakeholders and gather their perspectives on the proposed policing model. A public survey is expected to be launched early this year.

Genung says there are 26 engagement sessions scheduled with municipal officials, and he participated in the first one yesterday in Okotoks. 

"I wanted to get in on one of the early ones to see what it's like and provide comments early on in the process," says Genung.

The mayor has been questioned regularly on what impact the change would have on the new Protective Services Building that is now under construction. The RCMP will be the major long-term tenant, occupying an estimated 32 per cent of the space and sharing in the cost of the common area.

During yesterday's session, government officials indicated the province would honour all existing RCMP leases and real estate holdings.

"Very high level and early days, but those are some of the questions that we're asking."

He says some communities have already been taking stances both pro and con, but he believes it's too early to decide here.

He says it may be a good move but the town needs to understand the benefits.

"We're in a fact-finding space where we can accumulate as many pieces of information as we can, and educate ourselves as best we can to be informed on whether or not it is something we would be in favour of."

He says some residents have shared issues they've had with the RCMP.

"I know there are one-offs and some people have shared with me their negative experience with the RCMP, but as far as community policing, I've yet to see what are the benefits of going to a provincial police force."

Genung says officials were told yesterday a timeline isn't set in stone on a decision. Premier Jason Kenney has previously said it would go to a referendum.

Last week, the Mid-sized Cities Mayors Caucus, which Genung chairs, held a Zoom meeting with  Curtis Zablocki, deputy commissioner of the RCMP "K" Division.

"As the 22 mayors that sit around that table, we're trying to get a perspective from the RCMP on all of this and what they have to say, so that was an interesting conversation as well."