Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston is urging the Alberta government to fully explain why it wants to ditch the RCMP to start a new police force.
He also wants the government to clearly lay out who will pay for this expensive change.
A month after taking office, Premier Danielle Smith has directed both her Justice Minister, Tyler Shandro, and her Public Safety Minister, Mike Ellis, to pursue the objective of establishing a provincial police force — a move instigated by her predecessor, Jason Kenny.
Johnston admitted on Wednesday that he, like many Albertans, is confused by her insistence on pushing ahead with this change when so many Albertans are against it.
Switching uniforms on police officers isn’t going to reduce Alberta’s crime rate, or fix any of the problems inherent in the criminal justice system, said Johnston, who wants Smith’s government to reveal to Albertans the rationale, and what benefits would result.
If the estimated $700 million to $1 billion cost of starting a provincial police force is to be downloaded onto Alberta municipalities, he believes municipal governments deserve to know about this major burden.
If the cost is to be passed on directly to Albertans through provincial taxes, then people should also know, added the mayor.
Johnston would rather more provincial money be spent on fixing the justice system. This means hiring more Crown prosecutors and other court staff to reduce caseloads and boosting reimbursement for lawyers taking on legal aid cases. Defence lawyers have resorted to taking job action because of underfunding.
Red Deer’s mayor believes it would also be better to change court sentencing parameters to stop some offenders getting “a slap on the wrist” and being turned out to re-offend.
Better crime prevention measures, such as having more mental health and other assistance programs, are also needed, he added.
The Alberta government wants to join Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland in forming a provincial police force, but the idea is unpopular with municipal organizations as well as many individual Albertans.
Alberta Municipalities, which represents urban centres has stated it’s against the change-over. And the Rural Municipalities of Alberta is also standing by the RCMP — even though the Alberta government stated it will add more rural officers under a provincial force.
“The polling numbers say this isn’t a great idea. The folks I represent say this isn’t a great idea. I honestly don’t understand who wants this,” Paul McLauchlin, Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) president recently told Calgary media.
This week, Brian Sauve, president of the National Police Federation, questioned why this transition is being pushed ahead without any meaningful public consultation.
Sauve believes Smith is intent on it “based purely on political reasons in her fight with the federal government.”
Yet the government’s own 2020’s Fair Deal Panel established that a police transition was at the bottom of the priority list for Albertans, said Sauve. He noted it ranked second last and was identified as one of the least effective ways Alberta could improve its standing in Confederation.