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Provincial grant solves “unfair” funding anomaly for RCMP-contracted policing in Coaldale

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Taber Times

By Erika Mathieu
Southern Alberta Newspapers

The Town of Coaldale is finally getting financial relief after nearly a decade of paying 100 per cent of their RCMP-contracted policing costs, which has cost the Town over $4.4 million since 2016.

On April 12, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services and Deputy Premier, Mike Ellis attended a press release in Coaldale to announce the Town of Coaldale will receive an annual provincial “Police Funding Equalization Grant”, worth $550,000/year to help the Town pay the additional 30 per cent in policing costs, which is normally subsidized by the federal government for municipalities which meet the government’s “New Entrant” guidelines for RCMP-contracted policing. 

Across Canada, municipalities between 5,000-15,000 residents enjoy a 70-30 cost-sharing agreement  with the federal government to pay for RCMP-contracted policing. In these comparably-sized municipalities, the federal government pays 30 per cent of the cost, while the municipality pays the remaining 70 per cent. Since the RCMP took over policing services in Coaldale in 2016, the Town has been the only small municipality of this size forced to pay 100 per cent of the costs for RCMP policing.

During Friday’s press conference, Mayor of Coaldale, Jack Van Rijn explained, “In 2014, we were told that Coaldale would, in short order, receive RCMP policing at the same rate as every other municipality its size across the country. Unfortunately, this never happened. We have tried to engage with the federal government on this issue, but those engagement efforts have either fallen on deaf ears, or worse, been dismissed,” and said the recurring annual provincial grant provides, “a made-in-Alberta solution to an Ottawa-induced problem that will stand to benefit our community for years to come.”

Since 2016, the Town of Coaldale has shelled out nearly $5 million dollars in additional costs to contract the RCMP. Chief Financial Officer and Deputy CAO for the Town of Coaldale, Kyle Beauchamp said, “The savings will be allocated to further service enhancements and municipal infrastructure. Those largely include an additional RCMP officer, and an enhanced road rehabilitation program.”

 According to Town of Coaldale the federal government’s refusal to provide Coaldale with the same 30 per cent subsidy it extends to similarly sized towns across the country that are policed by the RCMP under municipal contracts has imposed a significant financial burden on ratepayers. 

Manager of Government Relations for the Town of Coaldale, Jonathan Wensveen added that trying to get the federal government to rectify the issue has been, “frustrating,” and added, “at the core of this issue is a disagreement between Coaldale and the federal government over Coaldale’s policing history, as well as the intent/purpose of the federal government’s ‘new entrant guidelines’ for RCMP policing.”

Wensveen said the guidelines were introduced as a safeguard to prevent larger municipalities, such as the City of Calgary for example, from transitioning away from municipal police services to the RCMP and have been “misapplied” to the Town of Coaldale. 

“They were not put in place to prevent the Coaldale’s of the world (which have a long history of being policed by the RCMP) from retaining the RCMP as a police provider. Unfortunately, no matter how many times we tried to explain this to the federal government, we were told that because Coaldale is a ‘new entrant’ to RCMP policing, it must pay for RCMP policing at 100 per cent of the cost.”

“(This) is ultimately what prompted our team to think about how the Province might be able to step in and help out,” Wensveen explained adding, “Thankfully, the province agrees – based on both the facts and merits of Coaldale’s case – that the federal government is misapplying its ‘new entrant guidelines’ to Coaldale.”

Despite the Town of Coaldale being policed by the RCMP from 1905-1916, and again from 1932-1953, the Town became ineligible for the cost sharing agreement on the basis that it switched to the RCMP after Public Safety Canada created the New Entrants Guideline in 1992. The provision ended the federal subsidy for communities that were never policed by the RCMP. From 1954-2003 Coaldale was policed by the Coaldale Police Service, and then the Lethbridge Regional Police from 2004-2015, before returning to a municipal policing agreement with the RCMP in 2016. 

Since 2016, the Town has been lobbying the federal government but have been denied access to the federal subsidy. In mid 2022, the Town appeared to make progress on the issue, catching the ear of the Province of Alberta on the matter, former Minister of Justice of Alberta, Tyler Shandro penned a letter to the Minister of Public Safety of Canada, Marco Mendicino, requesting assistance for the Town of Coaldale in rectifying the issue. 

The Town has pleaded with the feds for years, citing their history of RCMP contracted policing, but to no avail. Three-term Councillor for the Town of Coaldale, Jacen Abrey commented that, “Coaldale has been overpaying for policing for most of my tenure as an elected official, and so to see this issue finally get resolved is a major win for our Council and a proud moment for our entire community.”

Mayor Van Rijn reiterated the Town’s position that the quality of RCMP policing is not the crux of the issue: “I want to make it clear that as a municipality, we have always been please with our local, RCMP detachment and applaud the dedication and professionalism of our local RCMP officers.” 

“Our problem is not with our local RCMP, it is with their bosses, Public Safety Canada,” Van Rijn added, noting the shortfall in local police funding is a result of inaction from Public Safety Canada, the federal ministry responsible for the RCMP.

The Town’s current policing contract with the RCMP is valid until 2032. The provincial grant, which is to be administered annually, will save the Town millions in the coming years. The terms of the funding indicate the grant will be adjusted in future years as the overall amount of its municipal policing agreement changes. Minister Ellis noted that although the immediate aim of the grant is to, “alleviate the financial hardship on Coaldale created by the missing federal subsidy, the provincial government will continue to advocate for Coaldale to be treated fairly by the federal subsidy.”

Minister Ellis said, “our government will continue to press Ottawa to extend the federal policing subsidy to Coaldale and to ensure the fair treatment for all Alberta communities.”

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