Big bonuses for RCMP top brass as front-line Mounties go without pay hikes

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson signed off on more than $1.7 million worth of what is called "at risk" performance pay last year for 90 senior officers, not including himself - at a time when rank and file Mounties have gone nearly three years without a raise.

Labour relations at RCMP strained after years of stagnant wages, overwork and unfulfilled promises

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, seen here in 2013, concedes low pay is among the reasons rank-and-file Mounties are leaving for other police agencies. As commissioner he can sign off on bonuses for his executives. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It's called "at risk" performance pay, even though it went to senior Mounties with desk jobs.

In 2016, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson signed off on more than $1.7 million worth of bonuses for 90 senior officers, not including himself.

That works out to $295,514 divided up among six deputy commissioners, $596,669 for 28 assistant commissioners and $838,137 for 56 chief superintendents. That's a nine per cent increase over their 2015 bonuses.

Unlike other senior federal public service executives, including high-ranking civilians working for the RCMP, information about the officers' additional pay wasn't posted online.

In the past, the RCMP provided the information promptly to CBC News upon request. This time, though, the Mounties instructed CBC to go through the Access to Information branch, which took six weeks. 

So why would senior managers be reluctant to share information about their annual bonuses?

Well, labour relations inside the RCMP are, to put it lightly, strained.

Pay stagnant for those on front lines

First off, rank-and-file members of the RCMP have not received a raise since January 2014.

In addition, Mounties were subject to the previous government's "deficit reduction action plan." Pay increases between 2008 and 2014 averaged to about 1.5 per cent a year.

At a meeting of the Senate's national security committee earlier this week, Paulson and Deputy Commissioner Dan Dubeau, chief human relations officer for the RCMP, confirmed the Mounties now rank 72nd out of 80 similarly sized Canadian police forces when it comes to pay.

For instance, the starting salary for a first-class RCMP constable is $84,000. In Calgary, it's $102,000.

Members of the RCMP have not had a pay increase in nearly three years. Some have refused duty at community events in protest. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Paulson conceded the lower pay is taking its toll on recruitment and retention.

"It is a real drain on the existing resources that we have and we're always in competition with other police forces," Paulson told senators.

Mounties' pay up to Ottawa

Although Paulson can sign off on bonuses for his executives, he can't unilaterally raise Mounties' pay. That's a decision that must be made by the Treasury Board.

In the past, the RCMP pay council negotiated salaries with the federal government. The group consisted of managers and members of the Mounties' now defunct labour relations regime.

Paulson ordered the dissolution of the pay council and staff relations representative program a year ago. At the time, he said they didn't align with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling permitting Mounties to unionize.

Since then, Paulson hasn't told rank-and-file officers much, beyond saying that any future raise will be retroactive to January 2015.

Earlier this week, Ontario Senator Colin Kenny asked the somewhat reticent commissioner about his progress.

Kenny:  "What are you doing?"

Paulson:  "I'm asking the government for more money."

Kenny:  "And what are they telling you back?"

Paulson:  "Stand by."

Many rank-and-file positions vacant

News of executive bonuses is also aggravating Mounties because, in addition to their stagnant pay, they're chronically short-staffed.

Deputy Commissioner Dubeau told senators this week that the overall percentage of unfilled positions on the front lines is in the double digits. 

Terry McKee speaks for the Mounted Professional Police Association, one of three groups vying to represent RCMP members. 

"Management shortfalls that include the lack of resources, equipment, training and the continuing harassment cases are issues that have plagued the RCMP for decades," he said.

Aggravating all this is the labour relations limbo Mounties now find themselves in as they remain the only non-unionized police in Canada.

When Paulson eliminated the staff relations program, management replaced it with a team of workplace advisers. People serving in those roles have told CBC there's no budget and no means of speaking with a unified voice.

Ironically, Mounties have less representation now than they did before the Supreme Court recognized their right to unionize two years ago.

Bill C-7 simply 'disappeared'

The top court gave the federal government one year to pass legislation to set the ground rules. The government asked for more time, then blew its new deadline of May 31, 2016.

When the government finally unveiled Bill C-7, it excluded virtually every workplace issue from collective bargaining.

Senators significantly amended the bill by putting issues such as harassment, conduct, equipment and staffing levels back on the bargaining table before sending it back to the House of Commons last June.

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, who serves on the Commons public safety committee, said the government has let Mounties down.

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie says the government has shown no urgency to pass legislation on rules for unionizing the RCMP. (DanielBlaikie.NDP.ca)

"The bill just disappeared. A whole fall session went by, we didn't hear anything about it. It hasn't appeared on any of the House calendars so far. There's no word from government on when it's coming back," he said.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told CBC News the minister will formally respond to the Senate amendments this spring. But there's no news on Mounties' pay.

"The government recognizes the importance of the issue to the RCMP and their membership. Work is ongoing," wrote Scott Bardsley.

Brass thwarting association, claim unions-in-waiting

Mounties could still unionize under another law, but as CBC News has reported, RCMP brass are not making it easy.

The rank and file have been told not to use RCMP computers, smartphones, email or bulletin boards to communicate about forming an association. 

The National Police Federation has filed a complaint arguing RCMP managers have gone too far.

"Digital communication is particularly important to reach members working in remote areas and in smaller detachments, as well as those serving outside of Canada," said Brian Sauvé, who is on leave while he organizes for the federation.

CBC News has asked the RCMP for comment on all of these issues many times over several months, to no avail. Several people within the force have disclosed there are verbal orders not to respond.


Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.