The RCMP won the right for their officers to unionize last year and now for the first time in the force’s history, the Mounties have a bargaining agent: the National Police Federation.
It’s a move that will have a profound effect on the relationship between the government and the organization and has the potential to alter how police services are offered in local communities.
One of the major issues in play is the salaries paid to RCMP officers.
In 2009, the federal government enacted a law to restrict growth in mounting salaries and other employment-related costs for government workers. Mounties’ salaries steadily lost ground as a result, and RCMP officers are now among the lowest paid law enforcement employees in the country.
A 2016 survey of base salaries for 80 Canadian police forces had the RCMP ranked in 72nd place. That situation improved marginally after some increases were granted in April 2017, but the RCMP salaries still stayed comparatively low.
And while several Island municipalities benefit from the comparatively low salaries paid to RCMP officers, they also enjoyed transfer payments from the federal governments when they used the RCMP.
Municipalities with populations from 5,000 to 14,999 pay 70 percent of the cost of policing with the federal government paying the remaining 30 percent. But those municipalities that rise above populations of 15,000 must pay 90 percent of the cost.
That fact may have a major impact on Sooke as the district’s population rapidly approaches the 15,000 benchmark.
“We have been watching the situation and we’ve built in a contingency into our year to year budgets to address increased costs when they arrive,” said Mayor Maja Tait. “We’ll also have to absorb wage increases and other costs as they arise.”
She said as far as the potential for increased salaries goes, it could be a good thing for the community.
“Salaries are a part of providing a more equitable, safe working environment. Municipalities like ours have seen a lot of turnover in their RCMP force as officers leave to work in (higher paying) municipal forces. That is obviously not a good situation as we lose the relationships and community memory of those officers when they leave,” Tait said.
Stan Bartlett of the Grumpy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria anticipates higher salaries may lead some municipalities to explore other policing methods.
“It (unionization) is a game-changer and may make regional policing a more attractive option,” Bartlett said.
That option, he said, becomes more probable as the union may push for more officers in communities to bring them into line with the population per police officer ratios that tend to be significantly lower in RCMP policed communities.
“If more officers result from all this, I don’t see that as a bad thing,” Tait said. “As we grow, it can only lead to a safer community.”
And while Bartlett contends the balkanized hodge-podge of policing in Greater Victoria may lead some to consider a regional police force, the concept is a long way from becoming a reality.
“This government continues to be supportive of integration and regionalization where appropriate. However, any change to policing and law enforcement in the Capital Region is a decision for the municipalities involved and their elected officials,” said Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth
Only five Vancouver Island municipalities – Central Saanich, Oak Bay, Saanich and Victoria/Esquimalt – have a municipal force and, to date, only Victoria has expressed support for the concept of a regional force.
For now, Tait is not plunging into the regional force speculation, choosing instead to focus on her own community.
“We look forward to welcoming our new staff sergeant to Sooke. We’ll be working with the RCMP to ensure that our community remains a safe place. I think that’s what people are really concerned about.”