It is traditional that when this time of year comes around, we are supposed to pause, to reflect, to gaze into the mirror, to whittle away at the perplexing issues of life, big and small, and the changes that were both great and insignificant. It is a time of re-assessment.
We remember some of the headlines, some of the stories of interest and the stories that got scant little attention but meant something to us personally. In the past year there has been a cavalcade of digitally formatted information, both good and bad, some of it judgemental and some of it merely misinformation. The headlining messages are always bundled as “news, or “breaking news” when it is in fact old, history just merely repeating itself.
We seem to be in a cycle of loudly expressed frustration and immobilizing constant stress, however, we also need to remember that this is also a time of great exaggeration. We are being inundated with the latest apoplectic event, a rain storm is now an “atmospheric river”, a snow storm “a polar vortex.” The press has become irresponsible and driven purely by a need to inflame and agitate, to warn you of constant impending doom or crisis. It is clearly an effort to remain relevant to the phone obsessed and relevant to the attention deprived general population. We as humans have allowed ourselves to be transformed, we are now an extension of those phones and logically therefore under the command of the persons that control them. Children in strollers now work their little fingers on an i-pad with the dexterity of a programmer, a constant presence disguised as a babysitter.
It is indeed a confusing time, a time where the economics doesn’t seem to add up, a downturn in the economy and upward inflation apparently not affecting the Xmas shopping, the lines at the airport, or the constant updates on Facebook by all those booked into the the all-inclusive sunnier climes. The look-at-me beach pictures are juxtaposed over longer lines at the food banks and growing tent cities. A recession predicted, but it does not deter Federal employees from threatening action over having to go back to the office, clearly not concerned for a loss of those jobs. The teens and the early 20’s now boycotting all the lesser paying jobs, somehow able to be comfortable with not working at all. Inflation not seen since the 1980’s not deterring every unions demand and every government in response giving greater pay raises then ever seen before, thus fuelling the same inflation. But the over-hanging cloud of complacency may be the most un-settling; a careless disregard combined with un-precedented narcissism.
This Christian holiday period is our time of escape, our safe room, despite most of us being non-practising Christians ironically or not Christians at all. But it does give us this chance, when we should try and look below or above all the overflowing narratives. To be thankful in our ability and outright luck to live in the 1st world. It is also time to thank those people who are continuing work with dedication and resolve regardless of acknowledgement or thanks. Also to those that live and who still gain pleasure in giving and receiving the simpler things.
In this vein I do have some random thoughts and general wishes.
To those past officers, who policed in different times, and have now left us. You were part of a disappearing policing history, one that seemed simpler, one which seemed to be more about human interaction and less about modern tools of containment and restraint. I salute you and will always remember that there were others that went before.
I hope that one of these days we can find the humour in life, to not take everything so seriously, and able to withstand minor slights. Humour is all around us and it will often provide greater insight than that found in the academic journals.
I do hope that soon we will be able to announce people without including their gender or race as a primary descriptor and that we return to some level of measurement by merit.
I hope that common sense becomes more fashionable.
I hope that someday everyone will be open to try and see the other side of the issue, to understand that every view has a right to be heard, as I truly believe that our very democracy depends on it.
To those that I took aim at over the past year– those policing senior managers such as Commissioner Lucki, those sometimes unfathomable politicians such as Justin Trudeau, and Chrystia Freeland, and other entities such as the National Police Federation, and the Indigenous; to name just a few of my favourite targets. I hope you too have a good Xmas. Most of the people behind these issues are well-intended and even though I often heatedly disagree with the policies, or what they are proposing, or the job that they are doing, I do not dislike them as individuals. In the end I am only trying to report, trying to propose or unearth facts, nothing else.
I hope that sometime during this season you too are allowed some time to be alone with more gentle thoughts, or to just be allowed to take it all in. It seems trite, but I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy. Vaccinated or un-vaccinated, I don’t care.
I would like to thank those of you who have been faithful readers of the blog, allowing me to vent and tolerated me when I sometimes overstepped the line. You know who you are.
Lastly, I would like to thank those police officers who on Xmas morning find themselves sipping on the bitter 7-11 coffee, in the quiet hours around sunrise, too early to head back to the office, when the only distraction is the crows bouncing around the parking lot for that tossed wrapper of grease. Enjoy that time, you’re only one call away from it possibly getting worse.
So a Merry Xmas to all of you, thanks for reading, thanks for being at the other end of this blog.
We will see you in the New Year….when we will go back to all those other issues.
There are a lot of analogies that would seem to fit the current state of bedlam in Surrey, that bastion of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police efforts in municipal policing, their veritable flagship of contract policing. Mary Mapes Dodge in her story of “Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates” wrote about the little Dutch boy who saved his country from disaster, by plugging a finger in the dike until help arrived the next day. It seems to be a fitting description of Surrey and the RCMP– in light of the back and forth bureaucratic political maelstrom now taking place in that fair city while also reflecting the current overall state of Canada’s national police force.
Of course in this metaphorical dike there is more than a single hole, there are many, all of which are being plugged by the fingers of the likes of Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, Assistant Commissioner Manny Mann, and Chief Superintendent Sean Gill. Playing the Dutch Queen, is the the illustrious and apparent policing expert Brenda Locke who is of course, now the mayor of Surrey with her 28% of the popular vote versus 27.3% of the popular vote for Doug McCallum.
Her lacklustre .7% win did not deter her from giving the speech about the “people have spoken”. Brenda Locke to keep her promise is willing to pay out over $100 million of taxpayer dollars to go back to the status quo of keeping the Mounties. (Did we mention that she used to be a party supporter of McCallum when he originally made it an election issue for a separate police force). She fell out of McCallum’s favour though and then switched her position. This all seems to be more about political revenge than thought out policy. In any event it has come about that on November 29th, Locke and her new group of councillors voting 5-4, have now endorsed the “framework for a development of a plan” to undo what has been done. This was after a presentation by A/Comm Edwards to the City council wherein he talked about what a great job the Mounties are doing and will continue to do when they get rid of those nasty Surrey Police Service upstarts, which by the way are now a few hundred members strong. A “Project Team” will oversee a development of this plan, that will need to be submitted to city council by December 12, 2022– which in turn would need to be forwarded to the BC Solicitor General and the Public Safety Minister for approval. Of course new Premier Eby will have a final say, one way or another.
One must keep in mind that the transition to a City Police Service has already been approved by all three levels of government.
For the BC Police Services and the Ministers to reverse that original McCallum majority government led initiative, one would think will take some real persuasion. Locke must realize that it is a high hill to climb so she has tried to stack her Project Team by hiring Dr. Peter German (clearly someone who has the ear of Premier Eby who had hired German when he was looking into money laundering and the casinos) and Tonia Enger (a self-declared “contract policing expert”). Both of course are former RCMP officers of lengthy service, and one would have to assume that their report will now have to be supportive of a return to the RCMP, and somehow also make it seem logical. Expect to see the money issue down-played.
The RCMP and their union, the National Police Federation, have been strident and vocal supporters of Locke to oppose McCallum, the Darth Vader of Surrey politics. I have been told on good authority that at the election headquarters for Locke on the night of the vote, Edwards, Mann and Gill were there in full glory, exhorting and cheering on their new mayoral hero. So much for police being politically impartial.
Then there was the curious case of public mischief brought against the Mayor, of which he was acquitted, much to the Mountie chagrin. What was curious about the case was that McCallum made a complaint of assault, and within a few days, he himself was charged with public mischief. The whole case should never have gone forward, but that aside, there is something highly suspicious about the Mounties bringing charges against McCallum in the first place, and in such a quick turnaround. Now, with little doubt, the City will also have to pick up McCallum’s very pricey legal bills.
There is also a ground level war going on between the Mounties and those that wish to replace them. The Mountie union for their part, will also be sending a report to the government with their view of the situation. The NPF spokesman, Ryan Buhrig, made an interesting comment to the press, in that he stated that seven of the fourteen “shifts” were currently “below minimum staffing levels”. Is this to blame on the transition, or is he admitting that the RCMP is currently not able to meet the contract needs? There is little doubt that these shifts were “below minimum” long before the Surrey Police Service came into existence.
I have by now heard from uniform officers from both sides. The RCMP officers I have spoken with make no bones about the fact that they don’t like the SPS officers, and the SPS officers in turn have complained about the brutal way they have been treated. Safe to say, the situation, morale wise is not good. I heard on high authority that the government at one time seriously considered making a formal complaint to the Public Complaints commission about the actions of some of the RCMP top management in their efforts to block the SPS. Their brief consideration was that the level of obstruction amounted to a form of “corruption”. They did not follow up for obvious political reasons.
If one wants to judge what the best course of action would be, there is a clear need to step back from the infantile actions of the politicians and senior police managers. One needs to look at this from the practical viewpoint and step away from the misinformation campaigns and the biased and often ignorant rhetoric. Let’s even forget about the monies spent, the monies about to be spent, or the monies about to be lost. The most basic decision and central question is whether or not the RCMP are even still capable of municipal and contract policing.
In the rest of the country, in academic circles, and even in the Federal RCMP rarefied air of Ottawa there is a very different dialogue going on. If contract policing is the dike then the holes in the dike, the holes in the organizational structure, are becoming increasingly apparent and they are numerous. The solution that is being discussed, proffered and debated is whether or not the time has come to let the dike break and in effect let the RCMP to get out of “contract policing”.
The most recent example is in an essay by Kevin Lynch and Jim Mitchell. Lynch is a former clerk of the Privy Council Office, and is now with BMO Financial; Mitchell is an adjunct professor at Carleton University. The paper got the attention of the Globe and Mail and is adding to the further discussion of this possibility. In the paper they argue that the problems of the RCMP are large in scope and that “they are inherently structural, requiring fundamental change to re-shape”. The Mountie “jumble of accountabilities” is supported by an “organizational model that fails them” and that they are “poorly positioned to discharge their responsibilities”.
Of course this is just the latest, in 2007 the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, stated that there was a requirement for a “much higher degree of managerial competence and sophistication than that which is currently found in the RCMP”. The Bastarache report said that the “culture is toxic, misogynistic, and homophobic”. In July 2022 an all party committee of the BC Legislature was tasked with reviewing the Police Act for the Province, stated that “we need to end contract policing”. In an associated poll, 39% of the people agreed with replacing the RCMP, 38% opposed and 23% were undecided.
Further along this year we have witnessed the Portapique inquiry, which showed that the managers of H Division, at the senior levels were in-fighting with their municipal agencies. Lynch and Mitchell also believed that the Emergencies Act inquiry in the end “portrays an indecisive federal police force”. It demonstrated that the very top of the organization is fraught with miscommunication and that they have become a fully integrated “political” police force, more interested in playing the political game than the operational game. Again, none of these latest revelations are good and the tarnish is not going to wear off soon.
On a lower level, when it comes to the more basic issues and the ability to staff their contracts, I am being told that the Federal positions in British Columbia are now almost 50% vacant, while the other Provincial units are approaching 30% vacancy rates. There is a lack of recruitment and the RCMP is now having trouble enticing anyone to a career and therefore an inability to staff positions. This is not new, this organization has been failing in this regard for many many years. As a result ideas are being floated in British Columbia, Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan for leaving the RCMP contracts altogether.
The Eby government has now had to provide an additional $230 million to the RCMP to assist in “fully staffing” rural policing as part of his “Safer Communities Act Plan”. This would seem to go to the very heart of the issue of not being able to fulfill the current contract.
It is also impossible to argue that the RCMP is any “cheaper” than a municipal police force, as it is a myth that the 10% discount given to the RCMP is a game changer. This is wholly swallowed up with the extra manpower demands which come about due to Federal commitments at a cost to the municipal and provincial policing needs.
There is historic irony. The British Columbia Provincial Police were disbanded on August 15, 1950, a move that was made for two primary reasons. One, was the hope that by doing so, if they brought in the RCMP they wouldn’t unionize; and secondly, they wanted to put a better fight against Communism. It would seem that on both of those issues the fight is over.
The current structure of the RCMP is damaged, in need of severe repairs. As a retired RCMP who preferred contract and the criminal work over the Federal, it is indeed bittersweet to watch the current machinations in Surrey. It is difficult to watch the demise of the RCMP in its present form, but if you don’t think it is happening you are not watching. The organization will not disappear, but I suspect we will not recognize it 20 years from now. It was good while it lasted, but policing is evolving, the past is the past and evolution is necessary to keep up with the quickly changing times. In Surrey, there is a futile attempt underway to argue that all would be good if one were to return to the RCMP. But it is a dishonest argument.
Who knows or would even dare to guess where this group of politicians will lead us. If the government gives in to the misguided sentiment of Brenda Locke and her cohorts, the only known thing for sure that the Surrey taxpayers are going to be on the hook for a rather imposing tax bill. All to return to an organization whose time is now completely taken up in plugging the holes, trying to hold back the flood waters against structural and inevitable change.
For some time now, there has been a large tent set up at 134th and 104th Ave– Surrey City hall.
The tempest under the tent is about the nascent Surrey Police Service and it brings to mind the three rings of Barnum & Bailey. Jugglers, hire wire acts, trumpeting elephants, and clown cars all featured as part of what makes up Surrey civic politics.
This show under the big top has been going on for awhile now, it was 2018 when Mayor McCallum and his Safe Surrey Coalition were voted in, under two main election promises; cancel the contract with the RCMP and secondly the further extension of the skytrain. At the end of this month, the new SPS is to actually begin patrols, in coalition with the RCMP, as this plodding along transition carries on. Many are predicting disharmony, resentment, and at the very best an awkward moment or two.
The transition process has met with infighting, personal barbs and innuendo, even allegations of assault and intimidation have been echoing off the walls of the city council chambers. In the last few weeks it seems to have reached a crescendo of inanity and misinformation. Those of us who once policed this burgeoning municipality of five police districts were often want to say in those days “only in Surrey!” This disparate community has always seemed willing to defy the expected norms of a civil society.
A multi-cultural community of distinct areas, a diverse populace of haves and have-nots, abject poverty and street level violence versus one acre mansions of multi-million dollar homes. Whites, south east Asians, blacks, all forming up in their distinct neighbourhoods of Cloverdale, Newton, Whalley, South Surrey, and Fleetwood.
It should not be assumed that they are living in harmony. In the nineties we patrolled the high schools which were even then being inundated by racist fights between south east asians and caucasians, each group not allowed to enter into the school property of the other. This is to say that there is nothing singular or cohesive about Surrey and there never has been an honest discussion of the many problems which afflict it.
It is a unique area to police and it is where an eye for an eye tooth for a tooth mentality is visceral. Often police officers having worked in Surrey have seen it as a badge of courage having once survived the posting and then moved on. And they almost always move on.
So who are the people in this three ring circus, all vying to drive the clown car?
On the one side is the irascible Mayor McCallum, a curmudgeon, smug, wily, and of long standing. Mr. McCallum has never liked the RCMP, and vice versa. The animosity has always been well known but never publicly stated. This uncomfortable relationship is now coming to a head as the exasperation builds on the part of the Mounties who are about to be booted out and those seeing themselves as pioneering a new police model for the city. Ironically, the people sweeping the place with a clean broom are actually hiring a bunch of ex-Mounties to lead and aid in the takeover.
On the other side is a group of disgruntled and pushed from power politicians, a new union head for the RCMP, and the media who doesn’t like McCallum who continually refuses to be party to their reporting.
Neither side ever reach a point where the real issues could be debated. Both sides continually throwing up illogic and misstatement as their campaigns wage war, and it has reached the stage of the whole exercise being a bad punch line.
These groups in turn have the political support of the likes of Linda Annis, Brenda Locke, and Jack Hundial. All three of these politicians have a particular political axe to grind. Annis, was the sole politician who survived the purge of the once in control Surrey First group started by Diane Watts. Her antipathy to McCallum has reached a very personal level.
Brenda Locke is also a long standing Liberal, once a Provincial Cabinet Minister and MLA , she too now thwarted by a largely Provincial NDP stronghold in Surrey. Also ironically she, along with Jack Hundial got elected on the coattails and under the banner of Mayor McCallum and the Safe Surrey Coalition who proclaimed the need for a separate police service. Clearly, since then there was a falling out with the mayor and she and Mr Hundial left the civic party and became independents.
Jack Hundial was a police officer with Surrey for 25 years. When McCallum announced the people he had picked for the tripartite transition team, Mr. Hundial found himself left out, out in the cold despite his Surrey policing background. Since that time he has been an outspoken critic of the motion to form a city force even though he, Locke, Annis, and Steven Pettigrew had all originally voted for it.
Knowing Mr. Hundial personally, I was somewhat taken aback at this reversal and his current support of the RCMP after having had many conversations with him about the dysfunctions of the Federal Force which had nursed him and now provides him with a pension. Politics clearly does make strange bedfellows.
All the parties explain their reversal in support because of the “secrecy” they allege about the transition, and the hidden costs they believe are forthcoming. They extoll the fact that the Fed’s subsidize the Mounties to the tune of 10% each year– therefore in theory they are correct, they are likely always going to be a cheaper alternative. The transition costs they allege are skyrocketing and is a harbinger of dangerous over-spending to come.
The current transition costs are estimated to be at $63 million, going up since 2019 when they were estimated to be $45 million. What the councillors don’t often say is that is the estimate is spread over the next five years. Surrey’s current overall budget to offer some perspective, is $1.2 billion with its 600,000 residents., and this year Surrey will be borrowing about $150 million to meet those expenses. The councillors often rant about the costs of transitioning all these officers, but usually do not mention that the vehicles, equipment and station buildings are already owned by the City of Surrey.
The NPF has been quite vocal and has been spending the union dues of their RCMP members to fight against the transition. They often pretend it is an issue of defending their members. They bought and paid for ads, lawn signs, and polls to firm up their position. They continually quote that “84 % “ of Surrey residents have a “favourable impression” of the RCMP and that “76%” say the transition should be “halted”.
The Surrey Safe Coalition headed by MaCallum show their own polling and say that their polls indicate people that only 6% of the Surrey residents prefer keeping the RCMP and their “cardboard cutouts”.
How does one get such disparate polling results. Its all in the questions you ask. Neither poll from either side should be seen as anything more than political posturing.
The NPF has clearly got a reason to fight the situation. They do not want to lose the largest RCMP detachment in Canada and they are clearly worried about these thoughts of policing independent from the Federal force as a possible trend. (Alberta has recently talked about getting rid of the RCMP—and there is a great deal of conjecture that if Surrey falls, there will be renewed consideration for a Lower Mainland Regional Police service –or some version of it). It should also be noted that the new SPS will also be unionized under CUPE. For them, this is a union fight.
So this assembled group of dissenters then added a couple more tactics to their arsenal by introducing a petition to call for a referendum in Surrey utilizing the Referendum Act which flows from Elections B.C. Those that follow this kind of thing would shake their head a bit at this, as it is a momentous task to force a referendum; wherein one is required to obtain 10% of voter support in all the ridings throughout B.C.
Do the people of Castlegar, or Radium, concern themselves with the Surrey police issue? Highly unlikely one would think.
The petition went ahead in any event, entitled the Surrey Police Vote, and it was primarily fronted by the Keep the Police in Surrey group. (Interestingly, this group bragged about raising $10,000.00 for their cause but would not comment how much money came from the NPF)
Somewhere in the process, once they realized that this could never be pulled off Province wide, the group concerned itself with only going after Surrey residents on their petition.
They enlisted Darlene Bennett to head the Committee and Eileen Mohan to be a spokesperson. Both of whom will be remembered as being victims of violence themselves. Darlene’s husband Paul was killed mistakenly in his driveway (still unsolved) and Eileen’s son was killed in the infamous Surrey 6 file. Both horrendous cases, both generating unspoken grief.
However the arguments for retaining the RCMP by these two women although emotional, lacked specifics and quite frankly make little sense. Definitely nothing that could contribute to the debate. Being a victim of crime unfortunately does not necessarily translate into knowing about policing issues. However this group felt that by exploiting their personal agonies it would draw out the petition signers. Quite frankly it was manipulative and crass.
Nevertheless, the petitioners, in a November 15 press conference, publicly proclaimed that they “did it” and held up a sign saying they had raised 42,000 signatures, representing about 13% of the population.
When asked why they think this would succeed, as clearly it did not meet the referendum guidelines, they prevaricate, and dubiously argue that they are asking that the Provincial government to take into consideration the results regardless of it not meeting the current criteria. They are asking that the Provincial government in effect reconsider and change their rules.
During the search for signatories the rhetoric and nonsense escalated. The group argued that they were being harassed by Bylaw enforcement and that they were being victimized by he slow turnaround at Elections B.C. Paul Daynes of Keep the RCMP in Surrey called McCallum a “little tinpot fascist dictator”. McCallum in turn banned seven members of the Keep the RCMP in Surrey group from the city council meetings.
Then there was “Toe Gate” on September 4th. In the normally placid South Surrey enclave of the well off, McCallum confronted some petitioners who were using the Save On Foods parking lot as a place to rally the troops. A verbal argument ensued between one of the petition organizers, Ivan Scott, who was sitting in his car, and McCallum who was standing outside it. After going back and forth and Scott demanding McCallum resign, Scott drove off, and McCallum argued turned the car in such a way as to hit him in the hip and drive over his toe. McCallum contacted the police and made allegations of assault.
The RCMP somewhat surprisingly, within a week then swore out a search warrant for CTV video footage of the interview of McCallum, under the auspices of a possible public mischief charge, clearly implying they did not believe McCallum. Having worked in Surrey for many years, public mischief is not usually a first step, so there is good reason to believe that this too is politically motivated. As a result, the Provincial government has had to hire a Special Prosecutor to look into it. We are still awaiting that judgement and the Keep the Police Surrey movement needless to say is hoping to see McCallum led off in handcuffs. It seems unlikely.
Where is Commissioner Lucki in all this? Should we assume she is under some sort of gag order from the Liberals?
However, the comment about the “cardboard cutout” mounties stirred the harnessed wrath of Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards, head of the Surrey RCMP, who called the remark a “deliberate attempt to undermine public safety”. That the tweet was “disrespectful” by “ending public confidence in policing at the current time”. Really?
The coalition group responded “in spite of the efforts of a bitter minority surely the indignation that he has voiced today equally applies to these groups organized efforts to de-stabilize and de-moralize our city’s incoming police force”.
And where is the Provincial NDP government in all this? Well they are busy reviewing the overall structure of the police in B.C., by examining the structure of the Police Act to: “examine systemic racism and modernize laws in alignment with UNDRIP (the U.N declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)”.
To sum the issues up which are facing Surrey residents is in fact quite easy. Do the citizens of Surrey wish to have a more accountable police department? If so, how much are they willing to pay for it? There is no doubt among the current officers of Surrey detachment that the RCMP, in its many and varied forms is suffering—at every level.
Would or should the cost savings mean more to Surrey residents than being subservient to Ottawa and susceptible to the vagaries of Federal policies–which seem more intent on gender identification than the property crime rates in Whalley?
No need to worry about the officers in Surrey. They will be just fine, they will move on to other details, other detachments and other policing challenges; and Ottawa might finally get the message of growing discontent and the need to reform.
The citizens of Surrey clearly voiced their opinion once before and decided to elect McCallum and his platform.
It is clearly time to undo the tent pegs and bring down the circus tent.
As you or may not be aware, there are three classes or categories of employees within the RCMP according to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act. The first are those that have representation; those officers now being represented by the novice union, the National Police Federation (NPF), and the officers are now dutifully paying union dues. The second category are those who are managerial, but are excluded from representation, civilian members for the most part. The third and final category are the officers of the RCMP who have no representation. This final category are the upper managerial ranks —Inspector and above, purposely distinguished from the rank and file by their “white shirts” and their brass laden uniforms.
No doubt you are wondering how these “white shirts” are faring in this day and age when the RCMP is being pummelled from all sides. They have had no pay increases either since 2017— despite this loftier status.
To be sure many of those in the elevated ranks have already gathered up their challenge coins and headed for the exits, driven out by old age or a sense of foreboding. Some are clearly worried about their perceived paltry pensions and are seeking salvation and further riches on the civilian horizon; bound for guarding the pipeline, the Independent Investigations Office or dare one mention the new Surrey City Police.
But for those that remain behind and for all those that aspire to become one of the knighted, there is still some hope.
The general public may be a little amazed to to learn that these officers, who have gone from one disaster to another in the last number of years, feel that they need a pay raise and an increase in benefits, usually the reward for a job well done.
However, in the policing world, pay raises are the result of a constant ratcheting effect, a keeping up with the Jones’ kind of rational.
That aside, the difference this year is that for the most part, their pay and benefits are going to be paradoxically tied to the unionized rank and file and the capabilities of the union negotiators of the National Police Federation.
Recently, I listened in to a recorded zoom style meeting, billed as a “Town hall” meeting which was open to all of the white shirts of the RCMP. Admittedly, it was a bit like crashing a get together at a Masonic Hall, as one could not help but feel that by listening in, without an invitation, was somehow illicit.
The meeting was chaired by C/Supt Leslie Ohare and Supt. Bert Ferreira who have been overseeing the “Officer Consultative Committee”. This committee is designed to be an intermediary or representative body for the officers with the Treasury Board Secretariat. The TBS will end up making the final determinations as to the white shirted officers in terms of pay and benefits and is the same Treasury Board Secretariat that is currently negotiating with the NPF.
So things have now changed with the coming of age of this union movement. The white shirts are for the first time facing Treasury Board, cap in hand as usual, but this time dependent on the NPF settlement. The reason is that Treasury Board must know the end results of those negotiations, before they can make a determination as to the rates of pay for the senior executive.
There were two terms heard when listening in on this meeting with reference to the demands of the executive and that is what they call the “pay line” and the need for there to be “no inversion”. In simple terms, they just mean that depending on what a Staff Sargent gets will by necessity determine what an Inspector gets. The accepted labour relations argument being that there is a need for pay separation and also satisfying the need to incentivize these higher positions. They don’t want some lower position getting greater pay and benefits than the white shirted, which would be an “inversion” of the salaries. It is a caste system after all, so one could not bear the thought that some operational lower rank could surpass an administrative manager, no matter what their respective roles and responsibilities.
So, now the white shirts are cheering on the NPF. Ironic to say the least considering that for decades these same managers argued and fought the battle against unionization.
In terms of the current ongoing NPF negotiations, Treasury Board confirmed during this meeting that the negotiations are currently scheduled into June 2021. They are meeting monthly (the next meeting is scheduled for March 2-4, 2021) and all are hoping to have a deal done by the summer –which would require ratification by the rank and file and a possible pay raise by the Fall of 2021.
Should no agreement be reached and arbitration needed, it was also learned that this would delay any settlement for at least another year. One would think that this would not be a very sellable position for the NPF.
Originally, the NPF was arguing publicly for a 17% pay request, but lately in their news releases or interviews they seem to be avoiding those bald numbers in terms of what they are asking, likely thinking that it is better to slightly dampen expectations. One would have to think, that inflation alone for the last few years would probably guarantee an 8% increase. That in itself would bring the 131strated RCMP constable from $86,110 to $92,998. This is still a long way from the Delta Police who are currently ranked number one at $107,840. Even third ranked Edmonton is at $106,262, still leaving a discrepancy of $13,264 per year.
Of course no one knows what the free spending Liberals are thinking. The Treasury Board makes recommendations to the Cabinet and they base their recommendations on three major factors; the size of the total compensation package, the internal relativity to other similar agencies, and the “state of the economy”. One of the negotiators with Treasury Board described the negotiations with the NPF as “the mood being receptive” but added that there were still “many issues outstanding”.
During this “town hall” the officers asked why they couldn’t get their pay raise immediately, but were given the standard answer of needing to wait for the NPF. These same officers are also now demanding (or asking for) : – unlimited sick leave, an increase in their pay to make up for the fact that they do not get overtime, and forty more hours of annual leave. They were also seeking greater benefits. On their list were increases in the dental service allowance; an increase in the PSHCP dependent coverage and an increase in life insurance from $160,000 to $500,000 with the employer paying all premiums.
These demands would or should not be considered out of line in terms of executive compensation. However, it will be difficult for the general public to rationalize demands for pay raises with the demonstrated fallibility of the RCMP senior ranks. The RCMP has hit a new low in terms of recruitment, morale, pay, and the implementation of the diversity and inclusion agendas.
The last few years has also watched them pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from the harassment suits, has seen report after report demanding changes of the RCMP. Shortages in manpower have been termed a “crisis” and over 3,000 complaints were filed against the RCMP in 2017 alone. The use of force during this era of Freddie Gray has risen 10% in the last three years. It has overseen operational and investigational disasters such as Mark Norman and are now waiting for the fallout from Port au Pique, and Cameron Ortis. An internal audit in 2020 said that the Mounties were accepting applicants who were poorly qualified and some even with criminal records. That the emphasis was now on “the quantity of applicants with less focus on the quality”. The solution to these recurring pitfalls is not either obvious or on the horizon.
The senior ranks throughout history have promoted their distinct and honourable position in the RCMP. They are to be saluted when passing, paying deference to their wisdom, experience and at having reached the upper echelons of a world class police department. All of these perceived notions can now be effectively argued and challenged. Promotion to this group has become diluted by policy, dwindling experience and best intentions. The red serge is becoming threadbare, exposed threads being pulled on a daily basis.
This fraying of this once proud organization has been overseen by this same group who are demanding, in fact assuming, they are to be rewarded nevertheless.
Like Marie Antoinette telling the throngs to eat cake in lieu of enough bread to eat, they seem to have “a frivolous disregard for the starving peasants and a poor understanding of their plight.”
Their personal financial goals on the other hand are seemingly quite clear. The senior ranks of the RCMP will continue to demand their cake.
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.
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:
Industry – what industry are you in? are you a lawyer working for a large firm, or are you a public prosecutor
Whether or not your’e a boss- Supervision
Associations and Certifications
Hazardous Working Conditions
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.
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?
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.