Grande Prairie might prove to be the tip of the spear when it comes to a shift away from the RCMP in Alberta.
In a vote just after midnight Tuesday, the city’s council decided to set up a new municipal police force.
“Grande Prairie city council believes transitioning to a municipal police service will best serve our community and create a more locally responsive policing solution with local oversight, addressing local needs,” said Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton in a news release.
“We recognize and are grateful for the service of the RCMP in Grande Prairie and everything they’ve done to serve and protect our community.”
The National Police Federation, a union representing some 20,000 RCMP members, said the vote was almost unanimous with only one council member dissenting to ask for more time to study the shift.
“The majority council decision to transition away from the Grande Prairie RCMP has been entirely politically motivated, when politics have no place in policing decisions,” said NPF president Brian Sauvé in the release.
However, the NPF says it will turn its attention to helping members through the transition in the years ahead.
The move is expected to cost $19 million. The Alberta government recently said it would kick in $9.7 million over two years.
There have been several conversations across the country in recent years about the RCMP’s ability to effectively police.
Surrey, B.C., the only municipality of its size in Canada without its own police service, is caught up in a years-long drama over a bid to replace the RCMP with its own force. At the provincial level in British Columbia, an all-party panel of politicians recommended a provincial police force be set up.
Nova Scotia has heard calls to replace much of the service the RCMP provides with a regional policing model. New Brunswick’s former public safety minister, Ted Flemming, said that province could consider launching a provincial police force as well.
Since Jason Kenney was Alberta premier, the idea of booting the RCMP out in favour of a provincial police force has been discussed. Kenney was seen by some to be raising the idea as a rebuke to the federal government, but the measure was also floated as a possible solution to rural crime problems in Alberta.
But the idea does not have strong buy-in from the public or municipalities, and has been on the backburner, despite the current premier, Danielle Smith, stated her support for such a move.
The cost of Alberta adopting its own force would be significant — estimated at about $735 million each year on top of $366 million in start-up costs.
It costs Alberta about $500 million a year right now to pay for the RCMP and the federal government chips in $170 million.