Minister touts Alberta provincial police idea but withholds costs

Alberta’s justice minister has been using his rural crime town halls to sell the idea of an Alberta provincial police while declining to release a report that analyzed the costs of transitioning from the RCMP.

Document talks about benefits of provincial service without releasing cost

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu was on the road last month holding town halls about rural crime. (Dave Bajer/CBC )

Alberta's justice minister has been promoting the idea of a provincial police force at rural crime town halls across the province while ignoring requests to release a report that analyzed the costs of transitioning from the RCMP.

At seven town halls over the last two weeks, Kaycee Madu distributed a document that lays out "the concepts and benefits" of what it calls "a police service for Albertans" that would replace the RCMP in smaller cities, towns and rural areas of Alberta. 

The six-page document says a new Alberta Provincial Police Service (APPS)  "can deliver more value without increasing overall costs," but says nothing about how much a transition would cost. 

The document further calls a switch from the RCMP "an opportunity of our lifetime," and says the new APPS would be "built by Albertans and for Albertans" and provide better service particularly in rural areas of Alberta. 

The province contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers to prepare an analysis of the costs of dropping the RCMP and setting up a new provincial police force. The $2-million report was submitted at the end of April but Madu has so far refused to make it public.

Barry Morishita, president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the mayor of Brooks, is calling on Madu to honour his earlier promise to release the report and to hold a referendum before committing to a transition. 

Morishita asked why Madu seemed to be pushing for a pre-determined result at the town halls. 

"It seems to me that the path has already been laid clear for the Alberta provincial police from the minister's perspective," he said. 

CBC News sent an email to Madu's press secretary Alex Puddifant asking for the cost of a transition to an Alberta provincial police, when the government was planning to release the PricewaterhouseCoopers report and why Madu was spinning the benefits of an APPS at the town halls. 

Puddifant replied with a vague statement that did not provide any answers. 

"Albertans expect their government to consider the concerns they brought to the Fair Deal panel and to make an informed decision on whether or not a provincial police service is in the best interests of the province," he wrote. "This will include a full consultation with all concerned municipalities."

The federal government currently supplies about $112 million a year for RCMP policing in Alberta. That money would be lost if Alberta transitioned to a provincial police service. 

In early 2020, Red Deer city council rejected a proposal to drop the RCMP in favour of a municipal force. The transition cost was estimated at $13.6 million and the annual operating costs were calculated to be $7.1 million more for a municipal force. 

'We know nothing'

The minister's rural crime tour comes as municipal leaders from cities, towns, villages and counties have sent dozens of letters to Madu and Premier Jason Kenney in support of keeping RCMP as their police force. 

The creation of an Alberta provincial police was one of 25 recommendations made by the Fair Deal Panel in a report released last year. 

Kenney promised to put the issue to a referendum so Albertans could decide whether they wanted a provincial police service. Last month, Madu announced that the RCMP question would not be put to the public during this fall's municipal election, as originally expected.

The National Police Federation, the union representing RCMP members, launched a campaign last fall to keep RCMP in Alberta. Since then representatives have met with dozens of Alberta municipal councils. 

More than 30 councils — including Fort Saskatchewan, Rocky Mountain House, Claresholm, Didsbury, Lac la Biche County, Red Deer County and Cypress County — have sent letters to the government expressing support for the RCMP and raising questions about a potential provincial police service

The concerns range from a potential escalation in costs to the municipalities to questions about why the government is pushing ahead with something residents aren't calling for. 

Steve Upham, reeve of St. Paul County, said his council is happy with the policing the area is receiving from the RCMP. 

In an interview with CBC, Upham said the lack of financial information about transition and operating costs is worrying. 

"We have no numbers to make a judgment," he said. "We know nothing. All we know is that the RCMP provides great service for our communities and we're happy with that."

Upham said he hasn't heard a desire from anyone in his county to switch to a provincial police service, a sentiment echoed by Paul McLauchlin, reeve of Ponoka County and the president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA).

"I'd like to talk ambulance response time," McLauchlin said. "That's a number one topic for the folks that I represent."

McLauchlin said the RMA isn't taking a position on a policing switch until members can see the analysis in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report.


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