B.C. cities caught off guard by RCMP pay hike

Penticton mayor doesn't expect the policing costs to have an impact on the city's budget this year

With a new policing contract less than a month old, municipalities across B.C. say that they have been blindsided by RCMP pay increases implemented by the federal government.

“It caught all of us off guard. I first heard about it when Diane Watt, the mayor of Surrey, brought it to everyone’s attention,” said Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton.

Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender has sent a letter on behalf of the Union of B.C. Municipalities to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews expressing “our complete shock and surprise” over the undisclosed pay lifts, which he warned will create “significant backlash” from councils and taxpayers.

Fassbender, the UBCM rep in the recent contract talks, said cities don’t yet know how much more money — if any — they will have to carve out of their budgets to fund the higher RCMP payroll.

While he was surprised by the announcement, Ashton said he doesn’t expect it to have a major effect on the city’s budget for this year, which already includes a scheduled increase.

“It has been already put into the budget process for this year and then any increases, we just have to make arrangements,” said Ashton. “The inspector (Brad Haugli) and the people around him have been doing a good job to keep a handle on costs.”

Ashton also said he is reassured that B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond has already started questioning the increases.

Bond is seeking more details, but said she has already been assured by Ottawa that administrative savings totalling $195 million will partly flow to cities and could entirely offset the pay raises, and possibly even lower their costs.

“I am deeply concerned about any potential impacts on our municipalities and that this information came as a surprise,” she said.

Fassbender said even if the pay hikes end up cost-neutral or better for cities, the lack of communication and consultation is deeply troubling, as is the timing.

The increases come just after a new agreement was reached with the RCMP, promising more financial transparency and better involvement in management for B.C. communities. Provincial, federal and municipal governments will now jointly oversee how services are delivered and costs are managed over time — with a five-year review planned to ensure the contract is achieving the needs of the communities policed by the RCMP.

Ashton is also hopeful there won’t be any similar surprises from the federal government.

“We are all working together. There isn’t one governing body in Canada that doesn’t realize there is just one taxpayer,” he said. “By working together, federal, provincial, municipal/regional, we only have one place to draw the resources from. And that is the taxpayer.”

The new 20-year agreement, signed by the province on March 21, also put an end to its threat to replace the Mounties with a provincial police force. While municipalities can still opt out of the agreement in favour of municipal policing, Ashton said that isn’t likely to happen in Penticton.

Switching to a municipal police force has been discussed at council, but according to Ashton has never been an active possibility, with concerns over costs and communication between jurisdictions.

“It means higher labour loads, because there is more members in the cars. Is it money-saving? I don’t think so,” said Ashton, who suggests that if a switch were made away from the RCMP, it should take place at the provincial level, as Ontario has done with their provincial police.

“That reduces the number of jurisdictional issues that have to be dealt with. So, if it is like the OPP, then if it was to be discussed, it should be discussed at the provincial level,” he said.