Saint John council votes to consider move to RCMP policing

The City of Saint John has voted to take a serious look at switching to the RCMP for police protection.

Decision prompts complaint to labour board from police union negotiating new contract

Saint John council is coming under fire for voting to look at switching to the RCMP while locked in contract negotiations with the union representing city police. 2:06

The City of Saint John has voted to take a serious look at switching to the RCMP for police protection.

The move comes as the city is locked in contract negotiations with the union representing the Saint John Police Force.

Dozens off off-duty Saint John police officers and their supporters attended Monday's city council meeting. (Connell Smith / CBC)
The union alleges city council is trying to interfere in contract negotiations between the union and the city's police commission.

"This guy's got no mandate to do what he just did there. None!" said police union representative Bob Davidson.

"We're wasting time, money, effort," said Davidson, who was surrounded by dozens of off-duty police officers who attended the council meeting.

Police commission chairperson Christopher Waldschutz appeared to agree with Davidson's assessment.

"We're in the middle of negotiations. How can you foster trust and goodwill?" said Waldschutz.

"To threaten one party with annihilation is scarcely the way to make things go smoothly," he said.

Waldschutz contends city officers provide great service and relate to the community in a way that could never be matched by the Mounties.

City council voted Monday to examine the process and the costs involved of switching to the RCMP.

Mayor Mel Norton said the exercise is only about gathering information and allowing council to make some comparisons after having to add $1-million to its budget for policing costs in 2014.

"Any time we can be more informed that's a positive opportunity and this is one of those opportunities," said Norton.

It's council's job to protect taxpayers, even if it means asking difficult questions, he said.

"If the Saint John Police Force is giving us currently the absolute best return for citizens' dollars, then this initiated process will confirm that reality. If it isn't the best bang for citizens' dollars, then it will also confirm that."

However, the vote was not unanimous. Coun. Shirley McAlary was one of five councillors who voted against the move.

"I have a concern about the legal aspect of it because we are not the commission of the police," said McAlary.

Norton and his brother, Coun. Greg Norton, both sit on the city's police commission as well as on city council.

McAlary said council should get a legal opinion on whether they should have been allowed to participate in Monday's vote.

Police association president Jamie Hachey said the council's move will not go unchallenged. He says he'll file a complaint with the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board.

"We're in active collective bargaining and they've threatened to contract out our jobs as an extortion tactic," he said.

In addition, the Norton brothers have both taken part in contract talks, said Hachey.

"They had a duty to negotiate in good faith and this clearly breaches it."