Editorial — Policing’s future

The shape of policing in B.C. is in much doubt, following revelations that the federal government and B.C. government are at odds over the next RCMP contract.

The shape of policing in B.C. is in much doubt, following revelations that the federal government and B.C. government are at odds over the next RCMP contract.

While the federal government apparently has set a Nov. 30 deadline for the province to sign a 20-year contract, Heritage Minister James Moore was downplaying that deadline on Friday. He indicated that the two sides should be able to come up with something both can agree on.

Provincial Solicitor General Shirley Bond revealed the deadlock when she spoke to municipal officials at their annual convention last week. Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who is on the provincial negotiating team, also stated there was a serious gulf between the two sides.

Cooler heads need to prevail. The RCMP need B.C. just as much as B.C. needs the RCMP. There are 6,000 Mounties working here — the most of any Canadian province. If their contract isn’t renewed, many of them will be out of a job.

B.C. is right to insist on greater accountability for the RCMP. The public has demanded this since the death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver aiport, at the hands of Taser-wielding RCMP officers. While a civilian oversight agency is being set up, the RCMP themselves must be more accountable to the province and local governments.

Municipalities also have grave concerns about budget implications. There is a good chance that the RCMP will become unionized, and that employee costs will rise sharply. Even if wages stay the same, there could be significant overtime bills. Municipal budgets can’t handle large, unexpected costs such as this and some assurance about how much costs will rise in the future is crucial.

The federal government, which has the most tax authority in the country,  should be willing to accept a one or two per cent annual cap on additional costs to be borne by the province and municipalties, and absorb anything above that figure.

It has far more ability to absorb those costs than local governments, which are dependent on property tax, do. Such a clause would also prompt Ottawa to be much more rigourous in managing RCMP expenditures.

The two sides need to get back to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith. At the same time, the province and municipalities need to have a plan B fully in place, in case no deal can be reached.