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RCMP deal a new era for cities

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Federal and provincial ministers signed a new 20-year RCMP contract Wednesday, ushering in what B.C. cities hope will be a new relationship with Mounties and better control over spiraling police costs.

City councils, which got their first look at the full text last week, have until the end of April to ratify the agreement.

Any city that doesn’t like it can terminate its RCMP service and form a municipal police force or partner with an existing one.

Cities will also get a two-year, opt-out option going forward and a review of the contract is promised every five years.

“We are creating far more transparency and accountability in policing,” B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond said Wednesday at a signing ceremony.

“For the first time we will have the ability to question costs, to look at breakdowns of costs, to say do we really need to have those kinds of things take place in British Columbia.”

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will work out detailed costs in the next few weeks.

The net impact will be under one per cent, said Paul Gill, general manager of  corporate and financial services for the District of Maple Ridge.

Gill, who previously sat as a civic observer in the RCMP contract talks, believes the agreement is the best B.C. could get, given the economic times.

“You know the federal government is cutting back in a number of areas. For us to have retained their financial contribution in these times, from my perspective, is a significant achievement.”

At the heart of the deal is a new B.C. local government contract management committee with 10 reps from cities which are promised much more hands-on control of spending changes, instead of just an advisory role.

It’s still unclear, however, whether cities can ultimately refuse to pay costs they object to.

But Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, the current civic observer, said the hope is RCMP decisions will be shaped by civic input well before that point.

Municipalities will also be privy to the RCMP’s five-year financial plans so they can better prepare for cost changes.

Previously, cities had no say on national programs, and were given only a one-year planning horizon on costs, and had no ability to review programs, detachment administration levels or challenge service delivery methods.

Improvements in the deal include an agreement that Ottawa will cover 30 per cent of the costs of integrated policing teams such as the gang task force and IHIT, up from 10 per cent now.

No change was made in the overall cost-sharing formula, which makes cities with populations more than 15,000 pay 90 per cent of costs, while smaller cities shoulder 70 per cent.

Police services will cost Pitt Meadows around $4.3 million in 2012, while Maple Ridge will fork out about $16 million.

Both municipalities are pleased that the contract stresses accountability.

“Just to be able to have a say in what goes on in our municipality with the RCMP is huge,” said Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters.

“Having said that, we have a good rapport with the RCMP in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge and a lot of other municipalities don’t have that. We are fortunate to have that.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said the contract was a long-time coming.

B.C. last fall threatened to withdraw from the RCMP and start its own provincial force after the federal government issued an ultimatum to sign the contract or lose the Mounties in 2014.

“I think we are going to look back in a few years and say this is all right,” said Daykin.

 

– with files from Monisha Martins

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