Alberta Mulls Replacing RCMP With a Provincial Force

October 13, 2020 Updated: October 14, 2020

The Alberta government has hired Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) Canada to study whether the province should replace the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with a provincial force.

This is not the first time the idea of transitioning away from the Mounties has come up in Alberta. In 2001, the so-called “firewall letter” to Premier Ralph Klein proposed establishing a provincial police force to replace the RCMP.

Ted Morton, political science professor emeritus at the University of Calgary, was one of the six signatories of the letter. He says the idea makes even more sense now.

“There’s no question that in the last decade or even two decades, rural Albertans have been poorly served by the RCMP,” Morton told The Epoch Times. “You can talk to people who have had theft issues and lack of response.”

Morton believes more Albertans would want to join the police force if they didn’t have to deal with RCMP rules.

“If you want to ever be promoted you have to be bilingual, and most Albertans are not bilingual. Secondly, you also have to be willing to move … from province to province, and I’d suggest a majority of young Albertans don’t fancy moving to Manitoba or Saskatchewan.”

Keith Brownsey, political science professor at Mount Royal University, said the proposal aligns well with the United Conservative Party (UCP) support base.

“There’s been an upsurge in rural crime, and a provincial police force would be aligned to alleviate that or at least attempt to. The second thing is, it’s good for those who are angry at Ottawa, who don’t like Ottawa right now for whatever reason,” Brownsey said.

“It’s the UCP following through on a campaign promise. They’re going to study it, and I’ll bet you, if this study is done properly, the costs will be prohibitive. End of story.”

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said in a statement that the study will “explore how a police force designed in Alberta—not Ottawa—would improve the safety and security of Albertans and their property. Alberta’s government must make an informed choice, and this report will bring us one step closer to the panel’s recommendation.”

The Fair Deal Panel report released in May said many Albertans expressed “frustration with the bureaucracy of the RCMP,” including the practice of transferring officers elsewhere soon “after [their] having settled in and becoming familiar with the community. This lack of continuity means that knowledge and experience never accumulate properly within local law enforcement. This results in criminals having the upper hand.”

Albertans also told the panel that “the RCMP was unable or unwilling to confront activists” and had a heavy-handed approach to enforcing gun laws.

The panel report says Alberta pays $262.4 million annually for the RCMP’s services, with the current contract covering rural areas only, while Ottawa pays an additional $112.4 million. However, municipalities with populations over 5,000 people have their own agreements with the force. The panel suggested that municipalities should be encouraged to sign on to the Alberta Police Service to replace the RCMP, and that efficiencies of scale and scope would help cover the short-run costs.

“The training expenses would now fall on Alberta, so that would be an additional expense, but … I’m sure that they would be much more efficiently managed from Edmonton than they are from Ottawa,” Morton says.

Ontario and Quebec have their own provincial police forces, as did Alberta from 1917 to 1932. The Alberta Sheriffs Branch was established in 2006 to help with traffic enforcement, surveillance, communications, and security at the legislature and courthouse. The Fair Deal Panel reported that “in many small towns, sheriffs have become the backbone of local law enforcement when RCMP staffing is inadequate.”

A poll by the Fair Deal Panel showed that only 35 percent of Albertans supported replacing the RCMP with their own provincial police force. However, the survey results included people in Calgary and Edmonton, which have already replaced the Mounties with their own city police service.

When announcing the PwC study, Madu said, “After a federal throne speech that ignored nearly all the legitimate concerns of Albertans, this [is] an important part of getting a fair deal for Alberta, while limiting Ottawa’s reach into the province.”

Morton agrees.

“If push comes to shove, the province that has its own police force, collects its own taxes, and has its own pension plan—the threat to separate is a lot more credible than if you don’t have any of those things,” he said.

“And Alberta specifically, and Western Canada generally, needs leverage to get the policy reforms and constitutional concessions out of central Canada that are necessary for our future.”

PwC will be paid $2 million for the study which it must deliver by April 30, 2021. Alberta’s contract with the RCMP requires 24 months’ notice before withdrawal.