BARRHEAD-Woodlands County is holding off on taking any official position yet in regards to the possible replacement of the RCMP with a provincial police force.
By a vote of 3-3, Woodlands County councillors defeated a motion at their March 2 meeting to submit a letter to the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General stating the municipality supported retaining the Alberta RCMP.
The motion was spurred by a letter from the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass stating that its council does not support the Alberta government’s initiative to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force.
“We do not understand why the province would forge ahead with this process when the Fair Deal Panel survey results clearly showed that 65 per cent of respondents did not support this idea,” the letter states.
“These are tangible results from a provincial survey which need to be recognized by the province as a negative response, and a clear indicator by the people of this province that the majority is not in favour of a provincial police force.”
The letter further states that the “staggering costs” to implement this initiative should be enough to be a deterrent, and while acknowledging that other municipalities may not share this view, the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is pleased with the service provided by the local detachment.
Coun. Ron Govenlock, who put forward the motion, said he had a copy of a CC’ed e-mail between a local MLA and a county resident suggesting the province was investigating the possibility of replacing the RCMP because the people of Alberta supported the idea.
Govenlock noted that he was among the 65 per cent of Albertans who strongly believe the RCMP have effectively served the interests of this municipality and the province as a whole.
“I think the political appetite at the provincial level is that they proceed until they get the appropriate amount of feedback in opposition to their plans before they abandon the objective they set out,” Govenlock said.
That’s when Govenlock suggested joining with Crowsnest Pass in forwarding a letter of support for the RCMP to the province.
Coun. Dale Kluin said he frequently listens to the radio and it was his impression that Alberta is looking at creating a new police force because of the issues with crime experienced in rural areas.
However, he agreed with Govenlock that the numbers clearly show that rural Albertans are in favour of keeping the RCMP, and if there are issues with them not responding quickly to incidents, then that issue should be addressed in another way.
“We’re not going to fix it by spending millions and millions of dollars creating something new,” he said.
Coun. Jim Rennie added only that his comments on this issue were the same as Kluin’s.
However, Coun. Bruce Prestidge said he would like to see the cost difference between retaining the RCMP and creating a new provincial police force, noting that the cost of the former has gone up.
“It would be interesting to see what the cost of having our own police force would be versus the RCMP,” he said.
Mayor John Burrows said he wasn’t sure which way to go to this issue, as he hadn’t had any conversations with residents in his area about whether they wanted to keep the RCMP.
“I’m not really prepared to go one way or another,” he said.
Coun. Dave Kusch echoed Prestidge and Burrows’ position, noting that they don’t have a lot of information right now and would be interested in seeing if a new provincial police force would be less costly than the RCMP.
Govenlock pointed out that the majority of Albertans surveyed by the Fair Deal Panel supported keeping the RCMP, adding that most of council has lived long enough that there would be substantial costs in replacing an organization like the RCMP.
“From my perspective, this is an endorsement of our respect for the commitment that members of the RCMP have (made) to provide law enforcement services within our municipality and the province as a whole,” he said.
Burrows responded that he didn’t believe that provincial surveys are necessarily representative of the opinions of local residents.
He also stressed that this isn’t necessarily about whether the RCMP do a good job, but rather the costs of the service and whether a provincial police force would be cheaper. Burrows pointed out that Woodlands County had once looked at forming a fire department just to lower costs.
Govenlock, Rennie and Kluin voted in favour of the motion, while Burrows, Prestidge and Kusch voted against it. Coun. Dale McQueen was not present at the meeting to cast the tie-breaker.