A new poll claims that most Albertans don’t want a provincial police force, even while one Alberta city just voted to take advantage of a new government program to replace the RCMP with a local service.
A recent Leger poll found that 58% of Albertans disagree with replacing the RCMP in communities it currently services, compared to 21% who support the idea.
However, the poll question and the subsequent Calgary Sun article appears to mischaracterize the UCP government’s most recent provincial policing proposal.
The government’s February budget did not include funding for a provincial service, but offered cities funding to remove the RCMP and set up a local force.
Dylan Topal, spokesperson for Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, said no decision has been made regarding an Alberta Police Service.
“Our focus at this time is to empower municipalities to help them find their own policing solutions for their communities unique needs,” he said.
The UCP government’s Budget 2023 provides $3 million through the Municipal Police Transition Study Grant through which municipalities are eligible for up to $30,000 to offset costs associated with developing a business case for a municipal, self-administered police service, or a regional equivalent.
Grande Prairie city council has already decided to take advantage of the province’s offer, voting 8-1 last month to dump the RCMP in favour of a local force.
A council presentation prepared by consulting group MNP pegged the five-year cost to phase in a Grande Prairie police service at $169 million. That’s about $19 million more than staying with RCMP.
The province has offered the city $9.7 million to help with the startup cost and transition. The transition will take five years but local police are expected to start serving the city of 63,000 within three years.
Topal said Grande Prairie requested transition funding after it conducted an independent study and found what the start up costs would be.
“Once other municipalities complete their studies and decide to move forward with other policing options in their communities, Alberta’s government will work with them to assist on start up costs,” he said. “As each community has their own unique needs, these costs will vary depending on the community.”
According to the Leger poll, opposition to a provincial force is stronger among those who plan to vote for the NDP in the upcoming provincial election, with four in five respondents opposing the idea. Among UCP intended voters, 41% oppose the idea compared to 35% support.
Leger Alberta executive vice-president Ian Large called the idea a “non-starter.”
“We see that crime is an issue, we see that social unrest is an issue, but an independent police force isn’t an answer for voters.”
A provincial police service has long been debated as a means to give Alberta more autonomy. It was recommended in the provincial government’s Fair Deal Panel Report released in June 2020.
While Danielle Smith voiced support for a provincial police service during the party’s leadership race last summer, her government hasn’t committed to a force in her short tenure as premier, instead offering city choice.
A 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by the province, said the RCMP costs Alberta about $500-million a year. Those costs would rise to $735-million annually for a provincial service, on top of $366-million in startup costs, the report found.