Despite near unanimous opposition, Premier Danielle Smith and the United Conservative Party (UCP) government have decided to go ahead with the plans to establish a provincial police force in Alberta. In a mandate letter, Smith instructed Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro to replace the RCMP. This move is expensive, as well as extremely unpopular among all layers of the province, with the exception of a very small minority.
The idea of a provincial police force in Alberta came to the fore during Jason Kenney’s election campaign in 2019. Kenney stoked the flames of Western Alienation by running his campaign on the idea Alberta was being short changed by Ottawa. Once Kenney won the election, he established a panel whose mandate was to take a comprehensive look at how Alberta could get a “fair deal”. One of the main questions the Fair Deal Panel looked at was the establishment of a provincial police force, and they found that it would be more expensive than using the RCMP so they advised the government against it.
Kenney sent the issue to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for further study. Unsurprisingly, PwC also found a provincial police force would be more expensive than the RCMP. PwC found that the Alberta government currently spends $500 million a year on the RCMP, but the Federal government subsidizes $170 million of it through a cost sharing agreement. PwC also revealed a provincial police force would cost the province $735 million annually, and would come with a start-up cost of $366 million. As Paul McLaughlin, the President of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) put it, “it’s going to be a billion dollar boondoggle”.
Despite the high cost, Smith is moving forward with a provincial police force, but the question has to be asked, who wants this? The answer seems to be no one. The initial Fair Deal Panel found only 35 per cent of Albertans supported switching the RCMP with an Albertan police force. Three years later, the opposition is only growing.
No one wants this
It’s unusual to see so many different organizations in Alberta be in unanimous opposition to a government proposal.
The National Police Federation (NPF), the union that represents RCMP members, released a poll that found 84 per cent of Albertans wanted to keep the RCMP. The NPF also sent a letter to the provincial government urging them to keep the RCMP, and 73 towns, villages, counties, and unions signed it.
On Nov. 11, the Treaty Chiefs of Treaty 6, 7, and 8, representing Indigenous people across the province, came out together to denounce the establishment of a provincial police force at a press conference.
The Alberta NDP has also come out against the provincial police force. Rachel Notley has made it clear that if she is elected as premier, she will stop all progress towards a provincial police.
In April, Alberta Municipalities, (ABmunis), an organization that represents 275 of Alberta’s 334 municipalities, passed a resolution opposing the establishment of a provincial police force. After a meeting with Shandro, on Aug. 25, ABmunis reiterated their opposition to a provincial police force, and made it clear that if the government continued its course, they would not participate in any talks.
Finally, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) has also come out against the establishment of the provincial police force as it will be too costly, and would not address the concerns of rural Albertans. In the RMA’s spring leadership caucus meeting, 81 per cent of delegates voted in opposition to the provincial police force. The RMA has become one of the biggest critics of a provincial police force, and the UCP government in general. Paul McLaughlin has said, “I’m sitting here with a government that a year ago was saying we need to be fiscally prudent, which we are, and then I’m watching them just want to spend money really bad.”
Kenney, Smith, and Shandro, have all addressed RMA conventions directly to try and convince them of the need for an Alberta police force, but none have been able to change their minds. The UCP desperately wants to gain the support of the RMA, as well as rural Alberta in general. The next provincial election is around the corner, and some ridings which have been tory blue for generations are now polling in favor of the NDP.
The UCP has consistently presented the Alberta police force as necessary in order to tackle rural crime in the province. Shandro made it clear what the UCP is presenting by saying, “we’re all for fiscal responsibility… But it is not going to be at the expense of those who are most vulnerable and it certainly is not going to be at the expense of public safety.”
It should be pointed out that rural crime in Alberta is a problem. In 2019, a report by Statistics Canada showed that the crime rate in rural Alberta was 38 per cent higher than in urban centers. While the pandemic did manage to reduce crime for a short time, the crime rate across Alberta is rising again, with two Alberta cities, Red Deer and Lethbridge, breaking into the top 100 cities with the worst global crime index.
It’s telling, then, that despite the alarming statistics, all the municipalities in Alberta are rejecting the proposal to establish a provincial police force. What municipalities across Alberta are asking for is increased communication between local communities and the RCMP, and for an increased investment into community programs, and mental health programs. Or as Paul McLaughlin put it, “let’s deal with the root cause of crime, mental health support, poverty, drug addiction, and judicial reform.”
While the UCP has framed the debate as one between an Alberta police force and the RCMP, between Alberta and Ottawa, this is not an imperative issue for working people of Alberta. While Albertans have correctly come out against an Alberta police force, It’s telling that no organization has come out asking for the government to increase the amount of RCMP officers, not even the RCMP.
Ultimately, the police are the armed bodies of men and women who protect private property, not people nor communities. It is the police who break up Indigenous blockades. It is the police who break up protests. It is the police who force striking workers back to work. It is the police who act in the interests of the capitalist class. For workers, it doesn’t matter if the people oppressing us have a patch of a Canadian or an Albertan flag on their shoulders, neither will keep working class people safe. Instead we need to organize ourselves as a class to ensure our own safety.
Why is the UCP doing this?
The establishment of a provincial police force is supposedly one way for Alberta to gain more autonomy from Ottawa, and stop the federal government from meddling in Alberta’s affairs. But as ANDP Justice Critic, Irfan Sabir, pointed out, the provincial government has a lot of control over the RCMP in the province as it is. The provincial government can adjust the budget, control the amount of staff, and establish policing priorities for the RCMP. The main difference is that the federal subsidy for the RCMP saves the province a pile of money.
Despite the massive amount of opposition, despite the massive cost, Smith has decided to pursue her course of action. For those asking, “why now?” The answer is simple. Smith can afford it. Due to the current high prices of oil, Alberta is currently projecting a $12.3 billion surplus. Providing plenty of money for Smith to pursue her expensive, pointless goals.
Smith and the UCP have time and time again shown that they don’t care about the working class in Alberta. They are more interested in pursuing their own opportunistic goals, despite no one in Alberta wanting this. Despite the massive surplus Alberta is sitting on, Albertans are not seeing any investment in things that actually work to reduce crime rates. Workers are not getting a choice between the RCMP or an Albertan police force, instead the Alberta police is being forced onto us.
The instincts of Albertan workers are correct, in order to tackle crime in Alberta, we need a massive investment in mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, and social programs. The only way to achieve this is with a massive transformation of society. We need to get rid of the capitalist system so the workers who create all the wealth in society can put that wealth back into bettering our living conditions. We can use the productive capacity in society to provide for human needs, and not to secure profits for the capitalists. Ultimately, this would eliminate want and need from society, and eliminate poverty. Without a capitalist class directing the state to dismantle Indigenous blockades and force striking workers back to work, there would be no need for their police in the first place.