Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

HACKETT: Leave the RCMP alone

With so much chaos in the world, why not throw a little gas on the fire.

Out of absolutely nowhere this week, Solicitor General and Minister of Justice, Tyler Shandro released an unnecessary attack on the RCMP, once again reopening the old can of worms that the province needs to transition away from the RCMP to a provincial police force.

Shandro, of course, is the former Minister of Health who tried to help the province navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic, only to switch profiles with Kaycee Madu, who was demoted after a probe found he attempted to interfere with justice after he was issued a traffic ticket.

That’s all neither here nor there, but important to the story.

Shandro was embroiled in his own controversy, which seems like forever and a day ago now. He was accused of berating citizens and a Calgary doctor in 2020. The Law Society of Alberta reviewed underwent a review of his conduct during the incident in February of this year.

That same man is now on the campaign to end the RCMP in this province. It’s not him alone, premier Jason Kenney is of the longstanding belief that the RCMP’s days are numbered and that a provincial force is the only way to go.

Shandro, it seems just loves to play attack dog for the premier, much like he did during the COVID-19 pandemic– never missing an opportunity to criticize the media or anybody else if they disagreed with the government’s stance.

He stops short of outright criticism of the RCMP and its officers on the ground, choosing instead to attack the system. I’m shocked he didn’t call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by name. Always an easy target.

He mostly criticized the apparatus, saying that officers are trained outside the province, there is poor recruiting and it has a failing lab system.

While almost everyone in this province agrees that better policing is needed, very few people actually believe that abolishing the RCMP will fix the problem.

A National Police Federation consultation that visited 38 municipalities earlier this year found that 84 per cent of people support keeping the RCMP and making improvements to how it operates. Only 9 per cent of Albertans are in favour of a provincial police force.

Albertans are generally satisfied with the RCMP and are highly against increased costs for policing. Shandro, like most politicians, knows well that his audience won’t want to pay more for a provincial police force, so he included it in his piece, saying,

“Under the proposed provincial model, no municipality will face increased costs. Municipalities would pay the same or less for a provincial police service compared to what they pay for the RCMP. This is a far better bargain than the federal model, which will require municipalities to pay a larger share of policing costs in the coming years.”

In theory, that’s wonderful. Getting more for the same price or less? A bargain you say? Sign me up! How on earth could they possibly manage that? Well, experts think that won’t necessarily be the case.

The transition price tag would be about $366 million and would require six years to implement according to a government report last October.

Alberta’s current contract with the federal government for the RCMP also doesn’t end until 2032.

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta opposed the change in early 2022, saying the government has yet to demonstrate how the switch would increase policing services in rural areas or policing costs, or input into local policing. Yet, Shandro says the new plan, will do all of those things! Somehow.

“While the proposed model recommends a specific number of officers and support staff, it does not address how these resources will be distributed,” the RMA said in April.

“Additionally, the costs presented in the report are a product of assumptions and estimates, with limited explanation of the methodology used. Regardless, the report identifies an annual increase in provincial costs due to the transition as the 30 per cent of provincial policing costs covered by the federal government would be lost. In addition, the transition cost of $366 million represents a significant unnecessary burden for Alberta taxpayers.”

The Alberta Municipalities Association urged the provincial government to invest in addressing the root causes of crime (mental health and social and economic supports), and to ensure the justice system has adequate resources to enable timely access to justice for all Albertans. That seems like a simple solution, doesn’t it?

So, we’ve established both rural and municipalities don’t want a provincial police force, and people don’t want it yet here we are, listening to our minister tell us this is what we need.

Isn’t it the job of elected officials to listen to their constituency? Isn’t it the job of government to follow the will of the people?

It has become clearer and clearer that this fight between a provincial police force and the RCMP has nothing to do with what the people want, but a legacy for Jason Kenney and his ministers to say they accomplished something significant while they were in office and watch the consequences pile up on the next leader and generation of taxpayers.

Why won’t they listen to the people who have time and time again insisted that there’s no need for a new police force, just fix parts of the old system to make it better? It’s a very clear mandate. Surely the provincial government has some avenues to effect some change in the way RCMP polices, especially if it is the will of the people. But it seems like they don’t even want to try.

They just want a shiny new toy, one that is all their own and they don’t care how it gets done or who it impacts.

Tell Albertans what you’ve done to try and fix the problem before you hand the taxpayers a fat bill for something they don’t want, all in the name of etching your name in the political history books.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.