The seven candidates who are running to be the next American Conservative Party leader and premier are split on whether Alberta should bring in its own provincial police force.
Four of them said before a debate on Thursday that there is no plan that they will follow now.
“Not at this time,” candidate Rebecca Schultz said to applause from local leaders at the Alberta Municipalities annual meeting in Calgary.
Schultz said more needs to be done to address response times and safety in rural crime in cities, but added that this could be directly addressed by spending more money on specialist crime units and rural police initiatives.
Danielle Smith said the goal is better policing without extra costs and that more systemic changes are needed to help police deal with a high number of mental health and addiction cases.
“I would like to move immediately with increasing our current (RCMP) policing,” Smith said.
Travis Tows said he is in favor of a provincial police service to better fight crime but understands the municipalities worry about being saddled with heavy costs.
“I know you’re concerned about having to pick up a larger portion of the tab,” Tows said, promising to work with local leaders on a solution.
Leela Aheer said there was not enough consultation with municipalities and there was not enough detail on how it would be paid for.
“There is absolutely no information about funding, and it’s strange how this information came across all our desks,” said Aher.
“We will talk about it and we will move forward, but I do not support it at this time.”
Brian Jean said the issue is bigger than more police officers and must also include stopping “the revolving door of criminals through our justice system.”
Jean added, “I am committed to not removing the RCMP from Alberta.”
Todd Loewen said about six in 10 Albertans already receive police service through non-RCMP officers and the rest should at least have the option to pursue the same deal.
“I do support a provincial police force. But do I believe the municipalities should pay for it? No,” said Loewen.
Rajan Sawhney characterized the provincial police force proposal as a solution in search of a problem and said more consultation was needed.
“I absolutely do not support an Alberta provincial police force,” Sawney said. “I haven’t heard any elected official really speak in support of it.
“We’re trying to jump to a solution to a problem that’s not well articulated.”
The Alberta municipalities represent and speak for villages, towns and cities in the province.
Alberta Municipalities President Cathy Heron said they do not support the current model proposed by the government last fall.
But Heron said they are open to a deeper examination of different options, perhaps hybrid models and ways to better treat the root causes of crime.
“We would be open to a conversation about a provincial police force — just not the one that was proposed,” Heron said in an interview.
Earlier this year, Alberta’s rural municipalities said they support keeping the RCMP and oppose the idea of a provincial police force because the government has failed to demonstrate how it would increase service levels in rural areas.
Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s government is still investigating whether to pursue a plan to replace councilors, who currently carry out their duties in rural areas and some smaller towns.
A report by a third-party consultant released last October estimated that it costs Alberta about $500 million a year for the RCMP. The federal government chips in $170 million under a cost-sharing agreement. The report said that if Alberta decides to go it alone, it will cost about $735 million each year, on top of $366 million in startup costs.
But it said there is potential for more cost-effective law enforcement by using existing human resources and the government’s financial services to save money, and by drafting agreements with municipal forces to share specialized services.
UCP members will elect a new leader to replace Kenny on October 6.
The Canadian Press report was first published on September 22, 2022.
– with files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary