Mounties in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam will head to the polls this summer to vote on their first federal collective agreement as unionized members.
Last week, the National Police Federation (NPF) union announced that its board of directors had OK’d a tentative collective agreement with the Treasury Board of Canada for the country’s 20,000 RCMP officers.
No date has been set for the ratification vote; however, if the six-year contract is approved, it will likely result in property tax hikes next year for cities with RCMP detachments like Coquitlam and PoCo, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) is warning.
B.C. has about 7,000 Mounties in 63 communities with populations over 5,000 residents that will be affected by the RCMP change.
While the NPF and the federal government are mum on the contract details, national media is reporting big salary hikes for RCMP unionized personnel to bring them in line with municipal police across the country.
If the deal is inked, RCMP constables would see their maximum wage rise from $86,110 (as of April 2016) to $106,576 (as of April 2022); the RCMP contract also covers officers up to and including the rank of inspector.
By comparison, the salary cap for a municipal police officer is around $105,000.
As well, the tentative agreement includes a provision for retroactive pay as RCMP officers haven’t had a remuneration bump in five years. As a result, national media report, there is a 1.5% annual salary hike, effective April 1, 2017, plus a market adjustment up to 2.5% each year until 2022.
"This new collective agreement will provide RCMP members with fair, competitive compensation after falling behind other provincial and municipal police services for far too long and going without a raise for four-and-a-half years," stated NPF president Brian Sauvé in a release on June 28.
"It will also help create a more clear, predictable, and defined workplace for all members, and support recruitment and increased resources benefiting all Canadians."
Coquitlam RCMP declined to comment on the tentative agreement.
However, finance officials with the cities of Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam told the Tri-City News their councils have heeded UBCM’s advice and have tucked away money since 2017 in anticipation of the new RCMP contract.
Still, it may not be enough.
Michelle Hunt, Coquitlam’s general manager of finance, lands and police, said the 2.5% increase in RCMP labour costs that the city has budgeted each year won’t cover the actual salary increases of between 3.25% and 4.25% annually.
“Therefore, there will be a shortfall that will need to be made up in the 2022 operating budget,” she wrote in an email to the Tri-City News, noting Coquitlam hasn’t been formally notified of the potential wage hikes.
Hunt added, “We have prepared using a combination of measures including accruals and contingency funding to ensure the community doesn’t bear the entire increase at once.”
The estimated property tax increase for the RCMP labour is about 1% to cover the $1.5-million shortfall.
As for the retroactive payments — also in the range of $1.5 million to $2 million — if the contract is approved, they would be paid from the city reserves, Hunt said.
Port Coquitlam, which has 75 Mounties compared with 166 officers dedicated to the Coquitlam beat, has also set aside $2 million for potential retroactive costs.
And, if there’s not sufficient, “the city has a reserve account made of RCMP surpluses over the years, which could help bridge the gap,” said Dominic Long, PoCo’s director of community safety and corporate support, adding the reserve total is now at $1.9 million.
Coquitlam Coun. Craig Hodge, the co-chair of the UBCM’s Local Government Contract Management Committee, said the estimated $3-million hit for Coquitlam next year will be tough on city taxpayers.
But he credited past councils for ensuring Coquitlam is well positioned for when the RCMP bill comes.
“There are a large number of communities that are going to be affected by this,” he said. “In most communities, protective services is their single biggest line item — up to 30% of their operational budget.”
Hodge said the RCMP labour increase will be especially hard for municipalities that struggled financially during the pandemic.
He’s speaking with provincial government reps and Fraser Health about how to trim policing costs in Coquitlam and prevent downloading of programs and services such as for mental health calls.
“We need to make sure we use our police officers as effectively and efficiently as possible,” he said.
“We can’t have a police officer in an emergency ward for eight hours, or driving people to the hospital…. It’s not right from a cost or a treatment perspective.”
Hodge added, “I think the RCMP provides great value for the residents of Coquitlam and I’m pleased that the RCMP members have a new contract but the challenge is, how are we going to pay for it?”