RCMP-policed cities may be stung again by the federal government for another surprise increase in policing costs, this time as part of a change in officer retirement severance provisions.
And municipal leaders are demanding Ottawa pay the higher bill instead of downloading it to them.
The new federal budget passed in December includes an offer to current RCMP officers of early buyouts to replace their eventual severance payouts when they retire, a move Ottawa expects will save money over the long term but which cities say could trigger a sudden jump in costs for them.
It’s not yet clear what the cost increase would be to cities with RCMP forces and it would depend in part on how many officers opt to take lump sum payouts, said Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender.
“It was a unilateral decision made by the feds,” said Fassbender, who co-chairs a local government RCMP contract management committee.
“To me, the issue is ‘You made this decision. You didn’t consult with us. You didn’t give us the opportunity to have some ability to plan for it.’ So the liability should rest with the federal government.”
B.C. cities signed on last spring to a new 20-year RCMP contract that promised them more consultation, openness and transparency, particularly on any federal or RCMP decisions that might drive up their costs.
But it’s not clear those guarantees apply in the severance decision because federal budget deliberations were underway on that issue prior to the contract signing – a situation of timing Fassbender calls a “comedy of errors.”
In addition, he said, federal negotiators who signed off on the contract apparently had no idea the change was coming either due to budget secrecy.
“All it showed to me was the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.”
Fassbender and Union of B.C. Municipalities president Mary Sjostrom have jointly written to federal Justice Minister Vic Toews raising their objections.
It calls on Toews to uphold the “new partnership” commitments in the 2012 contract.
B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she has raised the cities’ concerns with Toews and the RCMP commissioner.
“We are being very clear that we are going to take this issue back to the federal government to have a discussion,” she said. “There needs to be clarity about the impacts. There needs to be a clear mechanism for determining costs.”
It’s not the only beef cities have with Ottawa over policing costs.
Fassbender noted cities are still awaiting details of their share of costs for the new RCMP E Division headquarters that Mounties are moving into in Surrey.
It’s got a price tag of nearly $1-billion when financing and other costs are included, such as the profit margin of the builder under the P3 contract.
“We are not prepared to take any responsibility for any of the capital costs over the life of the P3 partnership,” Fassbender said.
Several cities, including Burnaby, Richmond and others on the North Shore, are still considering leaving the RCMP over objections to the new contract.
Their concerns include the new headquarters building, as well as an unexpected jump in RCMP pay that cities were only informed of after the signing last March.