Rural Alberta Municipalities (RMA) president Paul McLauchlin continues to question the viability of establishing a provincial police force and is concerned the province is gambling with public safety at a time when there's a North American-wide shortage of police officers.
"We hire community police officers and there's a workforce issue in North America for policing," says McLauchlin. "It is hard to attract folks. The RCMP find it terribly hard, the City of Edmonton, City of Calgary, like, it's very hard to get people. What's being proposed here with 10 to 15 per cent people transferring over would be one of the largest public sector hires in North American history."
He says it's a core service essential to rural Alberta.
"One of the concerns that I have is you can't screw this up. Surrey's trying to do this right now, and it's not going very well."
McLaughlin met today with Tyler Shandro, Alberta Justice minister and Solicitor General, to delve further into the model presented.
The workforce is just one of the issues identified by RMA. McLauchlin says they have questions about the financial piece and why the proposal is still even on the table.
"I'm not quite convinced that they can get more officers for the same amount of money. I'm not sure how that funky math works so I'm going to do a deep dive on that."
Raising the minimum number of police officers in each detachment to 10 sounds good on paper, but the red flag comes up when you consider some existing detachments have three officers.
"Those offices with three officers probably don't have room for 10. So, where are you going to house these people? And the RCMP aren't going to give up their offices very easily or very cheaply, so are you going to build new in these places?"
"If you do the math, there's definitely going to be some consolidation and some centralization and decentralization. I think a lot of communities will be left without police that have them right now. And even if you see a higher number, 10 officers that are half hour, 45 minutes away from me is the same as one officer a half hour, 45 minutes away from me. The volume doesn't always count for taking better action in rural Alberta."
McLauchlin says the consultations held with municipal officials were high in quantity but low in quality. He says the scope didn't allow for any questions considered to be political in nature.
"So the political pieces would be, why are you even doing this? No one's asking for this. They're being perceived as political statements. I think they're extremely valid questions and even valid today."
He also dismisses Shandro's comments about the RCMP wanting to get out of contract policing. He has been told by RCMP officials it's low on their priority list and what Shandro stated is a red herring.
The RMA maintains it makes more sense to stick with the RCMP and provide them further resources to implement improvements in policing methods that are already underway. In a formal vote earlier this year, members of the Rural Municipalities Association rejected the idea of a provincial police force.
McLauchlin is also the Federation of Canadian Municipalities executive as the representative for provincial and territorial rural associations.
He says rural Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have all expressed concern about what the Alberta government is pursuing.
The audio from the full interview with McLauchlin is attached.