Cochrane Mayor Jeff Genung is supportive of the local RCMP, and sees no evidence of any good reason to change to a provincial police service.
In the latest of the province’s series of webinars on the proposed provincial police service on Sept. 21, Harvey Cenaiko, former minister of public security and solicitor general of Alberta, was asked the question: Why do we need this new provincial police service now?
Cenaiko responded it was about accountability, and it was time for police “to respond and report to Albertans, not Ottawa.” He added that municipalities could have their own police commissions, reflecting local needs.
Representatives from PriceWaterhouseCoopers Canada (PWC) also took part in the webinar, highlighting advantages they see in a new provincial service. More accountability and transparency are needed to help foster trust and credibility, they argued.
A report released in October 2021 by PWC suggests the price tag to transition away from the RCMP would be about $366 million initially, with annual costs of around $734 million.
Under the proposed model released by Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro on Aug. 16, community detachments serving small municipalities and rural or remote areas would be the backbone of an Alberta Police Service.
But until someone convinces him otherwise, Genung remains skeptical that a new provincial force would be an improvement from the RCMP.
“It’s an interesting idea but to date I don’t have enough information to make an educated decision,” he said, adding he feels the decision is not a matter of ‘if’ Alberta adopts a provincial police, but rather ‘when.’
“I get the feeling the province has made up their mind, and they’re going through the motion of engaging with us as municipal leaders, but they’re not really listening to what we have to say,” he said.
It’s the same objection previously raised by representatives from the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, which has been consistently opposed to the proposal. A letter sent by the group to Shandro in April states: "Based on the arguments provided by the province so far, there's simply no evidence that a switch to a provincial police service will be worth the cost and disruption."
While it's a divisive topic, Genung said one positive result of the ongoing discussion is that lines of communication have been opened, and that could lead to improvements in existing law enforcement arrangements.
“At the very end of the day, if we get an improved police force from the RCMP because we’re having this conversation, I think it’s a win,” he said.
The mayor said Cochrane Town council will gather more information and decide on a position as a group. Until then, he remains undecided on the potential merits of provincial policing.
He said he would prefer if the whole discussion was put on hold until after the upcoming provincial election, slated for next spring.
“Making a decision of this magnitude is a bit hasty,” he said.
In the meantime, he said he wanted the local RCMP detachment to know that he doesn’t see any reason for change.
“We’re happy with the services and the policing we’re getting in our community. Are there areas where there’s room for improvement? There always will be, just as there is for me, as a person,” Genung added.
Sgt. Jeff McIntosh of Cochrane RCMP moved here from Grande Prairie just less than a year ago, and loves his new town.
He was glad to hear the mayor’s vote of confidence.
“They’re great comments to hear. We’re happy to work in the community,” he said. “It’s a great community to live and work in.”
McIntosh said he’s heard no complaints about the standard of RCMP policing in his interactions with people on the street.
Alberta Municipalities (an advocacy organization formerly known as the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, which Cochrane is a member of) has argued that rather than investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a provincial police force, the Alberta government should focus on a task force to address the major drivers of crime.
The current Cochrane RCMP detachment is a federally owned building that is well beyond its functional life. Once the RCMP move in to the new $23 million Protective Services facility in Heartland, they will make regular lease payments to the Town and will occupy about half the space. Genung said the province assured him that in the event of a changeover to a provincial police service, they would take over the lease payments.
The new building is estimated for completion in the summer of 2023.