Federal and provincial ministers signed a new 20-year RCMP contract today, ushering in what B.C. cities hope will be a new relationship with the Mounties and much better control over spiraling police costs.
City councils, which got their first look at the full text last week, have until the end of April to ratify the agreement themselves.
Any city that doesn’t like it can terminate their RCMP service and form a municipal police force or partner with an existing one.
Cities will also get a two-year opt out option going forward and a review of the contract is promised every five years, allowing it to be re-opened.
“We are creating far more transparency and accountability in policing,” B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said at a signing ceremony with federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews at the Surrey detachment, the country’s largest.
“For the first time we will have the ability to question costs, to look at breakdowns of costs, to say do we really need to have those kinds of things take place in British Columbia.”
Toews said it’s also in Ottawa’s interest to rein in costs. Officials say the deal finally puts cities in better position to control costs and plan for them, rather than simply paying whatever bills are sent to them.
“This is a major shift from what we had before,” said Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, the civic observer in the talks.
Many cities have seen their RCMP costs – usually the biggest item in a municipal budget – climb six to seven per cent each year.
That’s not as severe as some unionized municipal forces, where costs have climbed by up to 14 per cent a year in some cases. But municipalities have a wary eye on whether Mounties form a union, a scenario that would sharply drive up costs.
At the heart of the deal is a new B.C. local government contract management committee with 10 reps from cities who are promised much more hands-on control of spending changes, instead of just an advisory role.
It’s still unclear, however, whether cities can ultimately refuse to pay costs they object to – Fassbender said the hope is RCMP decisions will be shaped by civic input well before that point.
They’ll also be privy to the RCMP’s five-year financial plans so cities can better prepare for cost changes.
Previously, cities had no say on national programs, they were given only a one-year planning horizon on costs, and had no ability to review programs, detachment administration levels or challenge service delivery methods.
Improvements in the deal include an agreement that Ottawa will cover 30 per cent of the costs of integrated policing teams such as the gang task force and IHIT, up from 10 per cent now. No change was made in the overall cost-sharing formula, which makes large cities over 15,000 population pay 90 per cent of costs, while smaller cities shoulder 70 per cent.
That works out to about $468 million per year for large cities, who host nearly 3,000 officers, while smaller cities pay about $54 million. The estimated increase for 2012/13 is around 0.7 per cent or $2.35 million for larger cities and 1.7 per cent or $5.7 million for the province, although Victoria expects its share may tick higher in future years.
B.C. last fall threatened to withdraw from the RCMP and start its own provincial force after the federal government issued an ultimatum to sign the contract or lose the Mounties in 2014.
SFU criminologist Rob Gordon said Bond’s claim B.C. was pursuing a “plan B” was likely nothing but “sabre-rattling.”
But he contends the province should still look at creating regional police forces for Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria to end a “patchwork” of RCMP and municipal police jurisdictions.
“Those are natural areas for amalgamation of services and the creation of cost-effective policing,” Gordon said.
Bond said B.C. continues to pursue more integrated services, but does not rule out regionalization. ”We’re happy to have a discussion about that,” she said. “But it has to be led by locally elected officials. There’s a divided view about how that should be approached.”
Officials also noted B.C. is launching a new independent investigation office, which promises better civilian oversight of RCMP officers involved in serious incidents.