B.C. cities say they’ve been blindsided by surprise RCMP pay raises that the federal government enabled just as it was signing a new policing contract that was supposed to usher in a new era of trust and cost control.
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender sent a letter on behalf of the Union of B.C. Municipalities to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Friday – a day after the pay hikes were revealed – expressing “our complete shock and surprise” and warning the incident will create “significant backlash” from councils and taxpayers.
Fassbender, the UBCM rep in the recent contract talks, said cities don’t yet know how much more money – if any – they will have to carve out of their budgets to fund the higher RCMP payroll.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she has been assured by Ottawa administrative savings totaling $195 million will partly flow to cities and could entirely offset the pay raises, and possibly even lower their costs.
But Bond is seeking more details.
“I am deeply concerned about any potential impacts on our municipalities and that this information came as a surprise,” she said.
Toews has said cities were advised months ago that raises on the order of 1.5 per cent were possible this year but the province and cities only learned of the pay package via the RCMP rather than being formally notified by Ottawa, with details.
Fassbender said even if the pay hikes end up cost-neutral or better for cities, the lack of communication and consultation is deeply troubling, as is the timing.
“You just can’t plan this way,” he said.
The province signed a new 20-year RCMP contract on March 21 – ending its threat to terminate the Mounties and form a new provincial police force – after securing extensive promises of more say for cities on spending decisions.
Several cities have already ratified the new contract, including Surrey, Kelowna and the Township of Langley.
But Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said his city is among those that have not yet signed and won’t be pressured into meeting the end-of-April ratification deadline.
“Frankly, for us, more important than meeting a deadline is having the assurance that this is a reasonable contract for us to enter into,” he said.
Brodie said Richmond council was already uneasy with the contract’s term and other aspects before the pay hike revelations were disclosed.
“We don’t give a 20-year contract to anybody,” Brodie said. “We already had questions. Now we’ve got many, many more questions.”
Mayors from RCMP-policed Lower Mainland cities will meet in Surrey April 20 to discuss the contract and pay raises.
Brodie said he wants to hear what other mayors say there before considering Richmond’s next step.
Fassbender said cities that don’t sign by the deadline effectively give two years notice of withdrawal from the RCMP and commit to forming their own police forces or partnering with existing municipal forces.
“I’m still going to urge our council to sign the new contract,” Fassbender said.
He said the new contract’s provisions of better disclosure and consultation were not yet in effect, adding the incident underscores the need for change.
“What this shows is how the old system would catch us off guard all the time and we would get told ‘Here’s your bill and just pay it,'” he said. “Under the new contract that process shouldn’t continue.”
Fassbender said he does not believe Toews was deliberately withholding information on the pay raises when he signed the new contract at last month’s ceremony in Surrey.
“I don’t see any sinister intent on anybody’s part here,” he said, adding the federal budget was still being developed.
He said he will be “delighted” if the compensation package ends up cost-neutral to cities.
“But we need the facts and right now we don’t have them.”
The new contract creates a UBCM-led committee with 10 civic reps who are promised much more hands-on control of spending changes, instead of just an advisory role.
Cities that sign the RCMP deal can still opt out at any time on two years notice, and a review of the contract is promised every five years.