New Brunswick

Provincial police force worth a 'hard look,' says N.B. public safety minister

New Brunswick’s minister of public safety says creating a provincial police force is worth a “hard look,” though the loss of a federal subsidy for RCMP services would be costly.

Ted Flemming says New Brunswick closely watching Alberta as it studies dropping RCMP

Public Safety Minister and Attorney General Ted Flemming says a provincial police force is worth a 'hard look.' (Joe McDonald/CBC)

New Brunswick's minister of public safety says creating a provincial police force is worth a "hard look," though the loss of a federal subsidy for RCMP services could be costly.

Ted Flemming was asked by Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson about the possibility of a provincial force during a committee meeting in the legislature last week.

Flemming responded that it's a huge policy issue and it would be "irresponsible" to give a yes or no answer. However, he said it's good Chiasson raised it for discussion.

"It's something we should take a hard look at because it's on the mind of New Brunswickers," Flemming said. It wasn't clear what that "hard look" would mean.

If enacted, switching to a provincial force similar to the Ontario Provincial Police or Sûreté du Québec would be a major and potentially expensive change in how the province is policed. RCMP police most of the province through a 20-year contract with the New Brunswick government that expires in 2032.

A police officer wears a vest that says police in front of crime scene tape.
RCMP have policed much of New Brunswick under a contract with a province that continues until 2032. (Shane Magee/CBC)

"If that decision is made, there would have to be significant discussions with the federal government because the federal government pays for upward of a third of all RCMP services given to municipalities," Flemming said.

"So if we want to increase police capacity, it's hard to walk away from one third of the funding that's presently in place."

Flemming's comments follow mounting discussion at the municipal level about policing services. Daniel Allain, the province's minister of local governance reform, has said policing was the most frequent topic he heard during consultations with municipalities over the past year.

The province's white paper on local governance reform suggests over the long term, "the entire policing model will be reviewed to ensure its sustainability." A vote at the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick annual meeting in October called on the province to study policing services.

A statement from the Department of Public Safety, responsible for the RCMP contract, didn't say what Flemming's "hard look" would entail.

Spokesperson Geoffrey Downey said in the statement the province has heard from municipalities and "is open to working with them to examine opportunities to provide more adequate and sustainable policing services" in the province.

"The Department of Justice and Public Safety is working on policing reform initiatives to rethink how policing services and other agencies across the public safety continuum deliver public safety services while remaining responsive to changing demands and expectations," Downey said in the statement.

Watching Alberta

Flemming said the province will closely watch Alberta as that province studies whether to switch from RCMP policing rural areas to a provincial police force.

A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests Alberta would pay millions more for policing because of the loss of an annual $170 million subsidy from the federal government for RCMP.

"I think we might be able to learn quite a bit from it," Flemming said of the Alberta study.

Alberta isn't alone in considering a provincial force. 

The Saskatchewan government's throne speech this fall also included a reference to considering a provincial police force. Nova Scotia's former Liberal government had started a review of policing services, including whether to launch a provincial force. 

Earlier in the New Brunswick committee meeting, People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said the province needs to do more to address concerns about crime in rural parts of the province, areas policed by RCMP.

"I cannot express how frustrated I am that government is not doing something about rural policing in this province," Austin said.

That echoes concerns that have come up elsewhere.

Memo cites 'growing concern' about RCMP service

A briefing note for Marco Mendicino, the new federal public safety minister, says there is "growing concern" from provinces, territories and municipalities that use the RCMP. The briefing note was released to CBC News through an access to information request.

It says the concerns are tied to the rising cost of policing following Mountie unionization, reduced "value-for-money" for RCMP contract policing services, a national approach that doesn't meet the needs of communities in rural and Eastern Canada, and "low levels of control and accountability over local policing."

Contract policing refers to RCMP providing provincial policing services or in municipalities such as the Moncton area.

Moncton, with the largest RCMP detachment in the province, will soon study its policing services. Its contract is separate from the provincial RCMP contract, but it also ends in 2032.

The last provincial police force was disbanded in 1932 when the RCMP took over. The province had a force called the New Brunswick Highway Patrol in the late 1970s and 80s, but that was not a provincial police force.