With Mounties due for a pay bump, cash-strapped municipalities seek reprieve from Ottawa
Some mayors say they were caught off guard by retroactive pay
Mounties are due to receive a chunk of retroactive pay after negotiating their first-ever collective agreement. Some municipalities say the looming salary bump will stress their finances — and they want Ottawa to step up.
This summer, the federal government and the union representing RCMP members ratified an agreement to deliver a sizeable pay increase to nearly 20,000 members.
Constables — who account for more than half of all RCMP officers — will see their maximum salary jump from $86,110 as of April 2016 to $106,576 next year.
The deal also lays out retroactive pay increases going back to 2017. The RCMP last updated its wage scale in 2016 and for years Mounties' pay lagged behind that of other police services.
According to the agreement, the rates of pay will change within 90 days of Aug. 6, when the collective agreement was signed. It's then up to the RCMP to make its "best effort" to implement the retroactive payable amounts within 270 days of signing.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) says communities that pay the RCMP for policing services are growing alarmed over the agreement's cost.
"It's widespread coast to coast to coast and our municipalities are actually very concerned, very, very concerned," said FCM president Joanne Vanderheyden, also the mayor of the municipality of Strathroy-Caradoc in Ontario.
"This issue is absolutely urgent given the potential impacts on municipal finances."
The RCMP is a federal agency but it provides policing services, under contract, to eight provinces, all three territories, about 150 municipalities and more than 600 Indigenous communities.
The cost of the RCMP's services — including salaries and equipment — is split between the federal government and other levels of government. How much a municipality is on the hook for depends on its size.
Municipalities with populations of less than 15,000 pay 70 per cent of the costs, while the federal government pays 30 per cent. Municipalities with more than 15,000 residents pay 90 per cent.
Vanderheyden said that while negotiations on the collective agreement were happening behind closed doors, municipalities were advised by the federal government to set money aside to cover the anticipated pay hike.
"Well, the percentage was way too low," she said, adding the retroactive pay also came as a surprise to most mayors.
"We are absolutely not against collective bargaining. That's not it. It's when you're not at the table and the direct impact comes to you."
Ottawa is asked to swallow retroactive costs
The FCM has written a letter to the federal government asking it to absorb all retroactive costs associated with the collective agreement.
Without federal help, Vanderheyden said, "municipalities will be forced to make incredibly difficult decisions because they're either going have to make cuts to their essential services or pass it along to the property tax, local residents. Because they can't go into arrears, they can't go to deficits."
Peter Brown, mayor of Airdrie in Alberta, said that while he firmly supports paying RCMP officers more, he was surprised by the final price tag. He said his city, just north of Calgary, has budgeted and held money back over the past few years but still has only about half of what it needs to cover the added policing costs.
"The message from me is, recognize that we've all been hit. We're all suffering," he said, referring to the pandemic.
Brown said the collective agreement's impact on Airdrie's budget is "probably in a $3.5 million to $4 million range. That's the equivalent [of] a five per cent tax increase."
Malcolm Brodie, mayor of Richmond, B.C., said his municipality estimates the retroactive pay lump sum will cost it something between $9 million and $11 million, plus the annual pay increase itself.
"What that means for us is to cover that the amount going forward on our budget, that's about a one-time 2.5 to 3.5 per cent tax increase," he said.
"We certainly have stayed with the RCMP for a good reason. We think that they've done a good job for our community. Having said that, you know, it's getting a whole lot more expensive."
A spokesperson for the federal Department of Public Safety said the department has kept in touch with regions with RCMP contracts on a regular basis since 2018.
"Contracting jurisdictions were aware that the salary of RCMP officers had been frozen since 2016 and that the collective bargaining process began in 2020. With the new collective agreement for RCMP regular members and reservists, salaries are in line with other police services across Canada," said Tim Warmington.
"It is fair for regular members and reservists as well as reasonable for Canadian taxpayers."