Alberta government says proposal would provide better rural protection, but municipal leaders wonder about the cost
Creating a provincial police force to replace the RCMP will help fill in gaps in service for farmers and other rural residents, better protecting them against criminals, says Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu.
“The goal for us is community policing,” he told a recent town hall meeting on rural crime held in Claresholm, Alta.
“The goal for us is, at the end of the day, more boots on the ground. The goal for us is to protect our province, our people — folks that live in our rural community.”
Larry Graff, a farmer near Vulcan, Alta., said criminals have been seeking easier pickings in his county due to tougher 24-hour policing by the RCMP in the neighbouring High River area.
Thieves entered his farm twice in December, stealing more than $10,000 in tools and getting away during the brazen second visit despite Graff waiting over several days in his car to catch them.
He emphasized his appreciation for the work the RCMP did trying to stop the thieves. However, the fact that farmers live in sparsely populated rural areas makes them vulnerable to criminals, he said in an interview.
“And now I hear that they are using drones to circulate around your place.”
The town hall was one of seven held across Alberta by Madu to hear local concerns about such crimes.
Reeve Maryanne Sandberg of the Municipal District of Willow Creek told him she was skeptical about an Alberta government statement that the proposed provincial police force will deliver more value at less cost to taxpayers.
“How do you propose to have a provincial police force, a new one, without increasing our costs and duplicating what the RCMP already have in place? … I really just cannot see it, so I would like you to explain how you’re going to do that.”
Madu told Sandberg “I am confident that if we decided to proceed with a new provincial police that we would not add an extra cost on your ratepayers. I do not want more taxes added (or) more expenses on municipalities.”
Rural municipalities across Alberta said in February they were collectively owed $245 million in unpaid property taxes by oil and gas companies, despite agreeing to tax breaks in 2020 to help the province’s ailing energy industry. Some municipalities reduced services and laid off staff.
During the annual general meeting Oct. 16 of the governing United Conservative Party, some members were concerned that initiatives such as a provincial police force will cost Albertans more money, flying in the face of efforts to reduce a provincial deficit swollen by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Jason Kenney told his party the initiatives will strengthen Alberta and are part of a broader strategy to boost the province’s leverage with Ottawa over things such as equalization payments and the Trans Mountain Pipeline through British Columbia.
However, during an interview at the town hall in Claresholm, Madu said the police force proposal has nothing to do with Alberta’s fight with the federal government over the oil and gas industry.
“This is about protecting rural communities, our people and our families.… From the questions and comments you heard tonight, I think it is obvious that it is a huge, huge problem for our province.”
Ontario and Quebec already have their own police forces, said Terry Coleman, a public safety consultant in High River, who is a former-deputy minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety for Saskatchewan, as well as an ex-chief of the Moose Jaw Police Service.
Although he is the chair of the Alberta Association of Police Governance, he emphasized he was at the town hall for his own interest.
“A major element of democracy is the oversight of the police and the system would run a lot more smoothly and a lot better if it was at the provincial level for policing,” he said in an interview.
The current model that uses RCMP for rural policing “is very dated, and I just think it should be more responsive to the province, and of course under the constitution, justice — which includes police, courts and stuff — is a provincial responsibility.”
Besides creating a provincial police force for all of Alberta, there could also be regional police forces to provide better coverage over smaller areas, said Coleman.
“And then they can have their own police commission and be really local in response and control and accountability.”