Here comes the Union..there go the Surrey Mounties–maybe….

In a rather resounding vote, the National Police Federation (NPF) has been certified as the new bargaining unit for the RCMP members. Who would of thought? Of the 14,459 ballots cast, 14,012 voted to certify, a 97% approval, a landslide if there ever was one. Vote getting the Conservatives and the Liberal political shape shifters this coming October could only dream about.

At the same time the C Division Mounties (the QMPMA), who had been wanting to strike out on their own (pardon the pun) were resoundingly told “no” by the Federal Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. Their albeit rather weak case was dismissed on somewhat technical grounds, in that they were maintaining that the designation of a single bargaining unit was unconstitutional; and the Board replied that they could not rule on it as it was a constitutional matter. Therefore dismissed.

It is interesting to read some of the rationale provided by the old C Division guard, like Gaetan Delisle, who testified as to the cultural differences as part of their argument. When asked to explain some of the differences he described the “anglophones” as being more “militarized and were used to receiving orders while C Division has more “discussion””. The anglophones liked to talk about “cars, firearms, and uniforms”, while they liked to talk about benefits. Suffice to say he did little to advance the melting pot duality of Canada, but the starkness of his comments should be kept in mind by the NPF, as one suspects there will be some further issues coming out of Quebec for the new bargaining unit.

In any event, the stark verdict of the vote for certification did emphasize the level of discontent; as if there were any doubts at this point in time. The ground moved in a seismic shift as some of the old guard rolled over in their respective graves, having never in their lives imagined a time when the RCMP would stop being “members” and are about to enter the era of now being “on the job”.

Ironically, two of the three co-chairs of the new NPF were part of the old DSSR system; Eddie McDonald and Brian Sauve having come up through that system, where they were at the mercy of the officers of the day, no matter how persuasive or effective they may have been. Their adjustment to the new reality will be worth watching, as their arguments one would think will need to become more strident.

As the process begins, no one should be expecting a quick response from government or in particular Treasury Board. The first “phase” will be the NPF putting forward a “request for disclosure” in order to collect the data required to prepare a “proposal” thats “comparable in the police universe”. In other words they want to see the data from the other agencies in order to help form their argument.

The primary issues, of course as is always the case, will be in negotiating “wages, hours and terms of employment”. And equally predictable, the focal point for on the on the ground Mountie is pay, and they will now be vying for a 14% increase in pay, which is what they say is needed to just keep up with the current municipal contracts.

Sounds good of course to each and all, but there are some further factors which should be taken into consideration.

First, Treasury Board oversees 29 collective agreements with 17 different bargaining units. Suffice to say, this is not their first trip to the rodeo. To think that they are going to simply rollover on this is naive at best.

Secondly, the general ratcheting up of police salaries throughout Canada is economically difficult to justify in times of declining criminal numbers. As much as the membership would not like to be reminded of it, it is not easy to measure productivity in policing, and to simply go in and demand equal pay for equal work, a sound argument, may need to be bolstered with some other more sophisticated arguments.

As an aside, in the Government of Canada the average employee makes $68,456, and in 2015 the median “household” income was $70,336.00. All of which underlines that sooner or later, the salary of police officers which are all hovering around $100,000 may be looked at with a bit of a raised eyebrow,– if and when the bureaucrats become cost conscious.

Third, the Mounties already have some of the best medical and secondary benefits in policing. So if one wants to use a comparison model with other municipal agencies this may be one area where they may lose this argument.

Then there is the upcoming election.

If the free spending, no cause too small Liberals retain power will they be ripe, right after an election, to incur another big bill? Probably, since there is absolutely no evidence of the Liberals ever being fiscally prudent.

Will the crime fighting Conservatives, who continually point to fiscal responsibility be prepared to grant a 14% pay increase in times of 2% inflation. Possibly, but if any party grants a raise it would likely be increased to those levels in more manageable bites; say 3 or 4 % per year for the next three years.

The average Federal government negotiated contract usually runs 2 years, sometimes 3, so even if a substantial raise is imminent, parity with others could be short-lived.

For this blogger the area of greater interest in terms of unionization will be in the area of “working conditions”. There should be little doubt that there is a massive shakeup coming for the RCMP in terms of the human relations or labour relations process; the handling of grievances, internal investigations, promotions and transfers, all of which will be the subject of possible union intervention.

One could easily predict, that once faced with this new universe, that much of the old upper management guard of the RCMP will leave, take their lucrative pensions and run for the retirement hills.

Or maybe apply to the new Surrey Police Force.

This awkward segue brings me to the latest development in the RCMP, which is their somewhat feeble attempt to stay as the operating and relevant police force in the growing and problem laden community of Surrey. Surrey, the land of strip malls, school portable trailers, gravel trucks and gangsters may be about to go through a significant change.

The NDP, being the NDP, whether it be about ride sharing, or money laundering, when forced into a clear bend in the road, likes to avoid making clear decisions, preferring instead to study the situation. After all taking a stand is always offensive to some particular interest group.

So they have now green-lighted the plan for the new police Force in Surrey proceeding, but then to keep everyone happy have appointed the all knowing multi-talented Wizard of Government Oz, Wally Oppal to head up what is being referred to as a “transition team”. This team, made up of City and Provincial employees will “ensure all key issues are addressed and all complex details are in place to facilitate an orderly transition”.

It is easy to interpret this as a stall tactic, but even if one accepts the good intentions of the government one would have to admit that this will delay the implementation, probably past the proposed date of 2021.

As to Wally Oppal leading this team, no one here sees a conflict, so maybe it is just me, but on the one hand he is being hired to keep the RCMP relevant on a national level (see previous blog), while at the same time helping to remove the Mounties from Surrey as some form of transitional guru. It boggles the mind, or at least a linear mind which looks for some co-relation in all this.

One must also be reminded that the former head of the Mounties in B.C. Butterworth-Carr now heads Police Services which was directly involved in the “green-lighting” of this transition. Is the appointment of Wally a slick slowing down of the process, in the hope that in the end the Mounties, or as they are now referred to as the “cheaper” option will prevail? Only time will tell.

No one in the fraying journalism world that exists in British Columbia seems to have the capacity or the interest to look a little deeper into the factors behind the calls for a new agency. So their reporting has fixated on costs, hanging on to the 10% figure as if it were some absolute truth on which the whole debate of stay or go must revolve.

In this blogger’s opinion, the Mounties have become irrelevant in the city policing environment for one reason only. But it is a big reason. It is their structure.

They are being run as a Federal government department, not as a viable policing unit which needs to bend and continually adjust to change.

It is like all Federal departments overrun with useless and redundant supervision, overly bureaucratic, and stymied by consensus on far too many levels. It suffers from a promotion system out of touch with policing needs, a system of advancement which has emphasized political need, one which does not take into account experience and knowledge of the job.

It is an organization in Surrey being run and dictated to by Ottawa, 4584 kms away from Surrey, but it is a mental distance, not a physical distance.

Meanwhile, rumours and talk are now seemingly endless as to the number of municipal police employees who will be applying for the new Surrey jobs. Vancouver City PD could lose a couple of hundred officers, and Delta and New Westminster could lose the majority of their members as police officers are always on the scent for greater monies and benefits, not to mention a shorter commute; and who could blame them. Some see the possibility that if Surrey goes, there will be a domino effect, of further and other jurisdictions moving to regionalization, which on paper and in theory would seem at least logical.

Even the white-shirted officers in the Mounties, although they maintain the public facing image and follow the dictated talking points, you have to know that behind the scenes, the pyramid climbing types are sharpening their curriculum vitae pencils. Many “loyal” senior management Mounties will be salivating at a 2nd career, retire from one, and join another, effectively doubling their salary. Loyalty to the red tunic is elusive, part mirage. After all not everyone can double dip with CFSEU, which is turning into the latest elephant graveyard for the officer rank.

One interesting rumour heard the other day was that any new agency would not hire any RCMP personnel over the rank of Sargent (the logic being of course why would you hire the problem as part of the solution). This frothing and gnashing of teeth that is going on behind the scenes although sometimes entertaining will begin to take its toll the longer the system grinds on.

Meanwhile, in the smaller ranks of the RCMP, many are gearing up and excited about being the new Canadian FBI—ahhh, finally a chance for a desk job. Brenda Lucki as the new Jim Comey, or J. Edgar Hoover, which ever comparison works best for you.

So with his thumb in the dyke of change, Mr. Oppal will attempt to stem the ever rising tide, but it is rising slowly.

Nothing is going to happen quickly, it is government after all, but there should be no mistake, the RCMP is about to become altered forever.

When Commissioner Lucki was asked what modernizing the RCMP meant to her, the reply was: “I am sort of a glass half-full kind of gal. So I don’t consider them challenges more like opportunities. And I think we can’t rush into things. ”

So, Ms. Lucki get ready, …. opportunity knocks.

But, I think you may be better served if you act with a little haste—maybe have a plan? Or those same people knocking on the door, may get a little impatient, and they may start kicking at that door.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via Creative commons andBiblio Archives 1941Some Rights Reserved

3 thoughts on “Here comes the Union..there go the Surrey Mounties–maybe….

  1. Peter, you do have a flair for the pragmatic, capturing the ongoing struggles of the Force in your own inimitable way. Most of us could not have presented it clearer. What a transition, from horse trading to labor negotiations. Can they do it without imploding? They are headed into a river of rapids S.T. Wood would never have dreamed in his wildest. Ride Trot!!!!!!!

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  2. I never thought I would be entertained by the likes of such an column. I wonder if Rick Mercer would consider mounting a X-CANADA tour taking in all the last editions of the “Regimental Dinners” that will proceed all “The Union Meetings”

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  3. keep in mind that this whole issue arose from the last time Surreys present Mayor was in office. He complained about speeders on his street and when an officer set up radar he was the first one that got caught. Little man got back in an it was his chance to get even. The biggest problem with this whole issue is politicians that think they need to control the Police force and can fire the Chief to demonstrate how they can make strong decisions with out any idea how to provide direction for better policing. Surrey is a perfect example of how Federal government decisions on immigration can have major impact on a community and then blame policing for not dealing with it

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