Surrey RCMP – the Walmart for Law and Order

Surrey, home of the RCMP’ s biggest municipal detachment, is now a political plank in the current election platforms of the two major parties in the wacky world of British Columbia politics. Unusual to be sure for an RCMP organization which historically considered itself apolitical.  The old Mountie guard remained above the pettiness— the grimy dirt of politics— it needed to be objective, forever the humble and unbiased servant of the people.

The N.P.F. is now changing those mores.

Surrey has now become the site for the ongoing battle between the RCMP– more accurately the union representing its current 800 plus members— the National Police Federation (NPF) –and the duly and properly elected government of the Surrey Coalition Party led by Mayor MacCallum. 

The NPF has taken the position that they know what is best for an  electorate which only a short time ago dramatically voted in favour of a new municipal police force, a promise that was a central tenet proposed by Mayor MacCallum and his municipal party.  

The NPF along with their political cohorts now argue that Surrey needs to retain the RCMP—the primary reason– they are cheaper.

Why pay more they say, when Surrey is already the Walmart of policing.  Their argument in point of fact fits in nicely with the new Walmart slogan “Save Money, Live Better” (the old slogan was “Always Low Prices ” which would also have worked)

For a long time, the debate pro and con has been waged in small skirmishes for the most part confined to the boundaries of Surrey. However, the calling of a Provincial election and a new Liberal promise has now thrust the issue on to the electoral and media stages as much as they can elbow away Covid.

Struggling from a very distant second in the polls Liberal leader Wilkinson is sprinkling Liberal gold dust throughout the Province. Sprinkling may be an understatement, more a fire hose, offering to  spend billions of dollars in various parts of the Province. Like most parties who get a glimpse of some sort of electoral advantage, Mr. Wilkinson is now grasping for a possible political gain by supporting a referendum in Surrey. No concern apparently for the independence of municipal politics or the duly elected government. 

The Liberal party has three ridings in Surrey which are of interest and may be in trouble; Guildford, Panorama and Cloverdale. He and his party clearly believe that his newfound stance will play well in these areas of middle class rectitude. 

The NDP government for their part having climbed on to the shoulders of poor Dr Bonny Henry to scan the horizon, now feel that this is an opportune time to ride that Covid wave. They are in a difficult spot in Surrey as their government through the Police Services department has already approved the going forward of a new police department–at least in its initial stages. When previously approached about changing his mind, Horgan quite rightly stated that the city of Surrey has the right to go forward with their proposal. The Province has no legitimate right to intervene.  

With the Wilkinson announcement the usual rolodex of commentators have now been given some political fertilizer to spread on the idea of a referendum. They already disliked MacCallum.

The NPF is the wedge. Although political neophytes, this has not hampered their enthusiasm.

Their motivation seems simple enough—they do not want to lose the membership in their union. The Surrey detachment is a flagship in the overall contract policing environment.  It is representative of the “big city” RCMP policing model, one of only a handful throughout the entire country. To lose the biggest out of your group is not the best first step for any union. 

There are other chess pieces in this process; the NDP and their leader Mr. Horgan; the Liberals under Mr. Wilkinson. Then there are the very vocal Surrey City Counsil members Linda Annis and fellow Surrey Counsel member and former Mountie himself Jack Hundial.  The centre is held by the curmudgeonly Mayor MacCallum, the dastardly wizard pulling the levers.

The NPF using house money pouring in from their new found members have begun launching ads, enlisting supporters and putting out lawn signs (which apparently, legally, they were not allowed to do–I guess they forgot to check local bylaws) . They believe, rightly or wrongly, that they enjoy the support of all the officers of Surrey in putting up the show of a good fight. However, in speaking with officers in that detachment, one does not get a sense that all are enamoured with their new union bosses.

The NPF have enlisted local politicians to spout their platform, and are receiving encouragement from former Mounties writing in to the printed media. Including, the former head of Surrey detachment Al McIntyre and ex- Deputy Commissioner Peter German (who recently authored the report on money laundering for the Province.) With the exception of one local politician, all of these individuals are of course former RCMP officers. 

The centre piece of the NPF argument is the evidence they claim to have gained from a paid for survey that they conducted. This blogger has talked about it previously, suffice to say the veracity of the survey can be questioned. But emanating from this “survey” they are putting out narratives such as: only “14%” of the current RCMP officers would switch to a new agency. That the undertaking is “costly…unsafe…unpopular”.  

As previously eluded to, the enlisted municipal political arm for the NPF come from two clearly disgruntled politicians; Linda Annis, and to a somewhat lesser degree ex-Mountie Jack Hundial. 

Ms. Annis was a member of the Surrey First political group, finished 6th in the election for counsel and was the single survivor of the overwhelming majority won by Mayor MacCallum who won on two central issues, a separate police force and a skytrain extension. 

Annis was previously a cohort of Dianne Watts, a popular mayor who believed that this would translate into a run at the Provincial Liberal leadership. It didn’t work out for her.  Interestingly, Watts first won a seat with MacCallum’s group in 1996 but then had a falling out and went on to form her own party. 

Watts enjoyed a very bonded, some would say intimate relationship with the RCMP during her time. Annis as head of Crimestoppers B.C clearly believes she has that same connection.  

Annis currently runs an ad where she proclaims that the Surrey residents are facing “an unprecedented crisis”, that moving to a new local force would “risk public safety on an unknown, untested, and under-resourced force”.

She goes on to say that the plan will result in “chaos and significant risks to public safety around the region”. This latter argument is based on the theory that any new agency will draw out resources from other departments. The chaos and risk to public safety language is simply pandering to Twitter and the rest of the media.

So on the one hand, her argument goes—no new Mounties will want to go this agency, but on the other it will be too much of a draw on resources from all the other agencies surrounding Surrey?

Needless to say, Annis is not and has never been a supporter of MacCallum.

This fight, marching in step with the NPF reeks of being a very personal battle for her.

Councillor Jack Hundial on the other hand actually ran under MacCallum’s ticket with the Safe Surrey Coalition in the past election. He has now become a turncoat.

Clearly, no longer enamoured with the Mayor and just as clearly he has been pushed from the inner political power circle. He has now gone on to form his own group with Councillor Brenda Locke, now calling themselves Surrey Connect. The reason for this falling out is not clear. This writer has known Mr. Hundial for some time and have had many personal discussions working together–usually about the failings of the RCMP. So this sea change to retain the RCMP on a personal level seems somewhat out of sync.

The talk media, especially CKNW has a very historical connection to the Liberal party. Remember Christy Clark’s radio show? They are equally motivated by the fact that they do not like MacCallum, never have. He won’t go on their shows.

Linda Annis on the other hand answers on the first ring and appears almost daily.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Indo Canadian Voice newspaper says Annis politicking “hysteria knows no bounds” and says that the enlisting of Peter German “is an utter disgrace”.

So what should we take from all this? 

First and foremost, the call for a referendum may be legally flawed.  

Furthermore, all of this debate  has little to do with the facts or the actual possible transition to another police force. The debate and the call for a referendum has descended into parochial politics. 

There is one guarantee. The cost of policing in Surrey is going to increase dramatically regardless of who wins this debate and the political tug of war. 

What the anti-MacCallum forces don’t mention is that the RCMP is currently in negotiation with the Treasury Board for a pay raise. A pay raise that will be retroactive to 2017. The RCMP has already warned the municipalities that they are currently projecting a 2.5% increase per year. 

This 2.5% increase would mean a $3600 per year per officer— or roughly $2.8 million per year. Over three years $8.6 million just to catch up. Let’s not forget that the RCMP, the very same NPF who argues about the Mounties being cheaper is arguing for a 17% increase, not a 7 or 8% increase. 

On the other side the transition to a new Force is currently projected to increase policing costs by 10 or 11%. Many argue that this figure is too low and there is not enough transparency to make a full determination. They could be right, but any transition costs money. For the opposition to now argue that the electorate did not think  it would cost any money to commit to a transfer is a bit specious. 

The voters of Surrey were and seem to have been asking for a transition for greater accountability and an ability to set local policing priorities in terms of resourcing and policing initiatives. How much are they willing to pay for that extra accountability and local input would be very difficult to measure. 

The referendum advocates clearly want to couch any future question to the electorate as a question of whether people want to see their taxes go up.  Do you know any group of taxpayers who would answer in the positive? (By the way it also costs money to run a referendum.)

Walmart is the largest private employer in the world, and the RCMP is the largest police force in Canada. Maybe, there are some similarities.

But remember, Walmart keeps prices down –partly because they proudly state that they don’t believe in unions — the Mounties now have the NPF. 

The NPF is arguing that they must keep the Mounties, they are cheaper, while also stating that they need to hire more RCMP officers. But, to the Federal Treasury Board they are saying the Mounties are worth much, much more. 

Conundrums, Aisle 5.

Show me the Money…

A rumour was recently heard that the RCMP may be in line to get a 12% pay raise; but before everyone jumps for joy and goes out and buys the new F150, or puts up that downpayment on the east end fixer upper, all of which you have been putting off for the past seven frozen years– there was a bit of a caveat in that rumour. There was no term or length mentioned, nor was it thought to be retroactive. So if 12% seems great, imagine it spread over the next five years and it loses some of its lustre.

A needed pay raise seems to be on the lips of almost all officers in the RCMP. Meanwhile they wait. The yet to be certified National Police Federation (NPF) state that in terms of their priorities, an interim pay agreement is the first order of business should they reach the goal of certification.

The NPF are currently in a holding pattern, much to the dismay of many RCMP members. They are being held in abeyance by those upstart C Division members, otherwise known as the QMPMA, who are challenging bill C-7, which allows for the unionization of the RCMP, but it only allows for a single representative union. The votes are in throughout the country, but the results are not being revealed until such time as the challenge launched by the QMPMA has been reviewed by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board (FPSLREB)

The Quebec members are challenging the constitutionality of Bill C-7, in particular where the Act calls for a single police voice. Though the Board can not change or amend Bill C-7, they can decide whether the law infringes on Quebec members Charter rights. The hearing is currently scheduled for March 26-27, and a ruling should be given within the week, or so they promise.

Clearly the NPF does not want a ruling in favourof the QMPMA and its 800 members; it argues and wants to represent Canadian RCMP officers as a whole, not a sum of many parts.

The QMPMA for its part and partially in response says it is being unfairly scapegoated for these further delays. It has argued in the past and continues to argue that there should indeed be one union representing Canadian Mounties, but feel that Quebec, because of its cultural and language differences, should have a strong position or seat at the executive table. They say there are “geographical, functional, administrative, and linguistic characteristics” which make them unique.

To reflect their distinct nature, for instance in the proposed seven member Executive counsel, they believe that there should be a guaranteed Vice-President position coming from or guaranteed to the QMPMA . The problem is arguably two-fold; only 4.4% of the RCMP works in Quebec so the mere numbers do not demand such over representation and secondly; it is the question as to whether cultural and linguistic differences are measurable in terms of police work. Many would say that the police role in a union or bargaining unit, should be relatively blind to cultural differences, thereby making it a moot argument.

Whether one believes that a special seat should be reserved for Quebec members is a political issue, it is not an argument that is impactful in terms of the economics of labour. The members will need to decide, but in the meantime this issue seems to be destined to be played out further for at least the short term. If the Board rules in the favour of the QMPMA, one could only think that this would force some serious coming together on the part of the NPF to try and resolve the issue, rather than force further delays.

Politics aside, there is little argument over what constitutes the primary issue in the short term, everyone seemingly is banging the same drum of necessity for “a pay increase”. They reflexively point to the current seven year freeze on the RCMP salaries as the obvious and primary justification for a pay raise. The freeze has meant they have fallen behind the other police forces which form their universe.

The RCMP salary structure over the years has always relied on the police “universe” which is made up of other municipal and Provincial agencies who negotiated their own separate pay increments. The Mounties simply attached themselves to these groups and watch as the “ratcheting” effect forces the Federal government to try and keep the RCMP officers in the same general range– an apple to apple comparison they argue. Just as clearly, the RCMP management has been woefully inadequate in their ability to keep up, as there are current claims that the membership is now 65th out of 80 police agencies. Implicit in this argument of course is that the RCMP by its very nature should at least be in the top ten.

Is this an opportunity to address some of the glaring problems of the salary structure?

Every officer in the RCMP are viewed as being the same, doing the same job, interchangeable. Therefore one raise, one salary fits all. It falls from this logic that everyone in the RCMP is equal in value, therefore, the pay should be exactly the same across the board.

Clearly this automatic pushing up of salaries has stalled in the past 7 years, but it is equally clear that there are some who are studying this ratchet effect, and questioning the viability of continuing with this same model. It naturally leads to the discussions as to whether police officers are becoming unaffordable.

Will the discount coupons that municipalities in this country get by using cheaper Mountie labour be removed by unionization? Will political control of the police service in their community be more viable if they are paying the full bill when the discount disappears as a result of increased salaries.

This one size fits all in terms of pay raises has pointed to some recurrent issues over the years which have never been dealt with in any substantive way. The single pay structure has created holes in the system, impediments that have negatively impacted such things as recruitment and retainment.

For many years there has been internal and eternal debates across the country. Does an RCMP officer stationed in New Brunswick deserve the same pay as an officer working in Surrey? Does an officer working in uniform on the streets deserve the same salary as an officer working in an administrative function?

Is it time that the RCMP gives some consideration to the clearly obvious, that all jobs in the RCMP are not the same, and all officers are not working in the same location.

If one looks at some agreed upon factors for employment classification programs which lead to a determination of a salary, in most jobs and in most circumstances, they can be summed up in nine categories:

  1. geographic location
  2. Industry – what industry are you in? are you a lawyer working for a large firm, or are you a public prosecutor
  3. Education
  4. Experience
  5. Performance Reports
  6. Whether or not your’e a boss- Supervision
  7. Associations and Certifications
  8. Hazardous Working Conditions
  9. Shift Differentials

What is interesting in reviewing these categories is that the one size fits all argument of the RCMP does not fit into most of these factors. Geographic location, industry, education, performance reports, associations or certifications have no bearing on the actual salary determination in RCMP negotiations with Treasury Board. Five of the nine factors that should be considered are not in the RCMP model.

The disconnect is the most obvious when one considers the geographic factor. There is no allowance for where you live in the calculation(with the obvious exception for isolated posts). An officer can pay $300,000 for a house in the Maritimes where in Vancouver the average house price is $1.2 million. When there is a requirement to work and live in the area you are policing, how can this still not be a factor.

A New Jersey police officer makes about $70,000 per year, whereas an officer in Wyoming makes about $40,000.00 per year. Almost the entire difference is due to the geographic component.

The average Toronto police officer makes $98,000 and more than half of those officers make over $100,000. This partly comes from the labour argument of having to live in an expensive city. Burnaby or Richmond RCMP officers can easily make this same argument, but it is not quite as simple if you are in fact working in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

Going down the factor list. Education is at a bare minimum to get into the RCMP, let alone a consideration in determining ultimate salaries. There is no accounting for graduate degrees or specialized courses of study when factoring in how much money someone should earn.

Experience is not a factor, the only pay raise that is expected is one where one is promoted, where one would be taking on supervisor duties. There is no value given to someone being on the job for a length of time. A twelve year member makes the same amount of money as the three year member. Somewhat ludicrous when one considers the amount of “learning on the job” that is experienced and is especially particular to police work.

How well you do the job is not really a salary issue either. Yes, there are performance requirements in terms of bare minimum, but the officer doing a great job is not rewarded through any kind of salary renumeration. There is no structure in place to measure or implement such a scheme.

There are a couple of factors that do apply currently. There are in fact shift differentials in place, and everyone points to the hazardous nature of the job.

One should be cautious about the hazardous nature of the job in arguing it as a primary factor. It is not as cut and dry as imagined by the general public. Statistically policing is not the most dangerous job, in fact it is not even in the top ten. The QMPMA argue in their web page writings, that their officers are on the “front line” implying a greater need for consideration. Are they on the front line in a non-contract Province?

Statistically the most dangerous policing job may in fact be highway patrol, or an officer working in a rural area, far from backup.

So is it possible in this age of data and data scientists that some form of algorithm could calculate some base salary which is consistent with the specific job, in a a specific location, or take into account some specialized training or experience. Could it be loaded in such a way that measurements could be made of the level of hazard to a specific job, that there would be greater compensation for those working in uniform interacting with the public everyday? Could those calculations make it more palatable to be working in shift work, in uniform, in an expensive city? Could this be beneficial in keeping officers on the road? Possibly.

In a discussion of RCMP salaries and the expectations of a pay raise, one would be remiss if one did not examine the current salary figures, especially in comparison to the general public. Consider the following:

The average police officer in the U.S. makes $54,462 as of January 1, 2019. Now, this is U.S dollars, so let’s add another 25% to take into account the American dollar. That would be an additional $13,615,50 for a total salary of $68,057.50.

The RCMP fresh from Depot Mountie makes $53,144 and at the end of 36 months is making $86,110.

The average RCMP officer makes $94,081.

To be in the top 10% of compensation for all employments in this country you need to be above $93,000. So the vast majority of police officers in this country, and in particular the RCMP are already making in the top ten percentile. If one is going to argue financial need, it is tentative ground. The highest paid public servants are currently, police, fire and ambulance workers.

When one considers all these factors and arguments, is there any expectation that this is anything more than food for thought?

No.

It seems unlikely that any union in its early stages could venture down the road of changing the current salary structure and in fact there may be no current capability to undertake a more complicated formula. And, everyone knows RCMP management is not exactly a troupe given to improvisation. And, if you listen closely you can hear the howls of dismay even on reading these suggestions, as there is normally not much sympathy in the East for the members on the West Coast. A brother and sisterhood maybe, but when it comes to money most Mounties have historically been quite insular.

If one is reading the tea leaves, in terms of where the Mounties are headed both in salary and in terms of the structure of the whole organization, one also can not discount the recent developments; the emphasis on Federal over Provincial policing; Surrey the largest Canadian RCMP detachment going to a Municipal force; the removal of the administrative role for the RCMP; an advisory Board to begin exerting its influence over change in the RCMP; and a growing concern amongst the public and the politicians as to the ratcheting of police salaries.

This also may be for nought as the other rumour being heard out of Ottawa is that the RCMP may be aiming to get out of contract policing altogether. Throwing uniform policing back to the Provinces, and heading for an FBI styled RCMP. Commissioner Lucki to be the next Herbert Hoover?

Either way it is clear that any new union is going to have its hands full in the next few years and hopefully it will not end up spending its time just re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

It is difficult to imagine Mounties arm in arm, bullhorn at the ready screaming “Workers of the world unite”! And it may be a little premature to picture the red serge marching in lockstep to the Communist Manifesto, as imagined by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Maybe Bob Dylan summed it up the best.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and “Images Money” with Some Rights Reserved.