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Rob Shaw: Ottawa snubs the provinces eager to know the RCMP's future

B.C. Premier David Eby disappointed and frustrated at the lack of clarity
Premiers came and went from a Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax this month no clearer on the future of the RCMP in their provinces. FILE PHOTO

Canada’s premiers ended their meeting in Halifax this month no closer to understanding the future of the RCMP in their provinces than they were four months ago, when they first sounded the alarm about the federal police force.

The premiers had demanded immediate clarity from Ottawa about a review it is conducting into whether the RCMP will continue contracting provincial police services, and whether provincial governments need to start planning for their own forces.

The request was considered urgent at the time, in July. The call was for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to directly engage in providing clarity on the issue.

But Trudeau, as he so often does, and especially in matters where B.C. is concerned, simply ignored the complaint entirely.

So, four months later, the premiers emerged from their Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax none the wiser on Ottawa’s policing plans.

“There is no update, and frustratingly so,” Premier David Eby told me after the meeting concluded.

In this absence of information, B.C. has rejected Surrey’s request to halt a transition to a municipal force and return to the RCMP. The federal uncertainty about whether the RCMP would be up to the job long-term is not officially one of the cited reasons, but it lingers in the background of the decisions being made by the BC NDP government.

“It won’t shift what we’re doing in terms of Surrey police,” said Eby. “We’re moving ahead with a transition to local policing in Surrey. But if anything, the Surrey example should illustrate to the federal government the challenges of these shifts and why we need a decision sooner than later.

“The RCMP contract is up for renewal in 2030, and we could use every one of those years to prepare for such a massive issue.”

It will take years, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, for any province to change from the RCMP and create its own provincial police force.

It’s not just premiers who want clarity about the RCMP. MPs on the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians’ issued a special report last week that highlighted how the pressures of day-to-day provincial contract policing has left the RCMP unable to fulfill its other federal responsibilities, such as investigating cyber crime, extremism and foreign interference, as well as safeguarding democratic institutions and key national infrastructure.

The pressure to balance the two is leading to “undesirable effects,” according to MPs. “It may be time for Canada to consider a stand-alone federal policing organization,” they wrote.

More than 60 per cent of the RCMP’s budget and people power goes to contract policing, with only 18 per cent to federal policing, the report found.

"We're certainly calling on the federal government to to examine the relationship between contract policing and federal policing inside the organization," Liberal MP David McGuinty, who chairs the committee, told CBC.

Eby said the work by MPs to study the issue backs up the premiers and their stance.

“That report obviously should be yet another reminder to the federal government of the urgent need to come to ground on this issue,” he said.

“Clarity is badly needed.”

Eby said he’s going to keep the pressure up. “The heat is not turning down on this issue,” he said.

But the premiers may need to get creative and exert political pressure in others ways if they hope to squeeze out any answers out of the unhelpful and uncommunicative Trudeau government.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]