Skip to content

Municipalities advocating for federal financial help with retroactive RCMP pay

“That’s a potential million dollar shift that we’re going to face at some point. It’s like waiting for the shoe to drop. It’s there, but you don’t know when you’re going to get it.
20210424 Canmore RCMP 0009
Canmore RCMP detachment on Saturday (April 24). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – Municipalities across the country could soon have a hefty bill dropped off at their doorstep.

A collective bargaining agreement between the National Police Federation (NPF) and the federal government will lead to an increase in pay for RCMP officers across Canada.

While municipalities across the country weren’t part of the collective bargaining, they are set to face the financial burden that could lead to many communities making tough decisions when the pay is known.

In the case of Canmore, it is estimated the retroactive pay could come with a $1 million price tag in early 2022.

“That’s a potential million dollar shift that we’re going to face at some point,” said Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert. “It’s like waiting for the shoe to drop. It’s there, but you don’t know when you’re going to get it.

“That’s punitive and potentially quite disruptive for a municipality.”

Canmore council adopted a resolution to join the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) ongoing push to have the federal government cover the retroactive costs. While the number of municipalities joining the cause has grown, the federal government has yet to release any specific details on whether it will provide financial assistance.

The council approved resolution noted the retroactive costs “may force us to make very difficult choices at a time when our primary focus needs to be on economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Krausert added municipalities weren’t consulted during the lengthy negotiation process and the price tag could come at the expense of local services or an increase in taxes.

“Being an unallocated expense, anything that we have to put towards it means that we're taking it away from something else. Anything that we have to pay retroactive is going to affect either our reserve levels or the ability to move forward with a capital project. The ideal situation is that the federal government covers all of the retroactive pay.”

With the retroactive cost likely to impact municipal taxpayers across the country, a chorus of municipalities is joining the FCM in pushing the federal government.

Both Swift Current and Yorkton in Saskatchewan – communities similar in size to Canmore – are estimating it will cost them at least $1 million in back pay. Alberta communities such as Okotoks are also expecting about $1 million, nearby Airdrie could hit as much as $4 million and St. Albert is expecting in the $3 million range.

The FCM noted municipalities were advised to prepare for a 2.5 per cent increase per year, but the contract ended up being a 23.7 per cent jump over the span of six years.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, who have the RCMP under their federal portfolio, said in an email as the service provider they were responsible for negotiating the collecting agreement with the NPF.

"Starting in 2017, the Government of Canada has been updating contract jurisdictions, on a regular basis, through the Contract Management Committee (CMC) on RCMP unionization and associated costs," said Zarah Malik, the Public Safety Canada spokesperson. "The CMC is an assistant deputy minister-level committee that meets regularly to discuss new and emerging issues that could impact the cost, governance, nature, and quality of policing services provided by the RCMP. Federal/provincial/territorial deputy ministers responsible for policing also discussed the financial impact of the collective agreement.

"With the new collective agreement for RCMP regular members and reservists, salaries are in-line with other police services across Canada," Malik added. "It is fair for regular members and reservists as well as reasonable for Canadian taxpayers."

Krausert said the Town of Canmore is in good financial shape and would likely be able to handle the immediate impact through reserves or a surplus from 2021, but it could hurt other service levels for residents.

“Having to spend a million dollars that was not planned for means that that million dollars will not go to other things that are high priority in the municipality, whether that be asset replacement, or dealing with affordability issues.”

The Alberta government released its own report on the potential of creating a provincial police service – similar to the Ontario Provincial Police – to replace the long relationship with the RCMP. The PriceWaterhouseCooper report stated the move would cost about $366 million.

However, municipalities have largely rejected the concept of the provincial police service, particularly since independent studies have found it could cost the province and its municipalities more money in the long term.

According to the NPF, there are about 3,500 RCMP officers in Alberta in 117 detachments. It estimates they respond to more than 800,000 service calls each year. In Alberta, there are 47 municipalities that have the Mounties as their local police detachment.

The NPF report found the Alberta government’s cost for policing was $262.4 million, but $160 million was covered by the federal government. As part of the report, a survey found 70 per cent of people polled were opposed to a provincial police service.

There are more than 20,000 RCMP officers in Canada. Of those, more than half hold the rank of constable and will see their maximum salary increase from $86,110 in April 2016 to $106,576 next year.

The agreement stated the rate of pay will change within the 90 days of the Aug. 6 ratification and the RCMP can ask for the retroactive pay within 270 days of the agreement being signed.

The collective bargaining agreement was ratified in August and will see them receive back pay dating back to 2017. The negotiations between the federal government and the NPF continued for about two years. The length of the agreement is for six years.

“This new collective agreement will provide RCMP members with fair, competitive compensation after falling behind other provincial and municipal police services for far too long and going with a raise for four-and-a-half years,” said Brian Sauvé, the president of the NPF in a media release.

“It will also help create a more clear, predictable, and defined workplace for all members, and support recruitment and increased resources benefitting all Canadians.”

While few municipalities are arguing the increase in pay for the officers, the lack of consultation in the negotiations is leading many communities reliant on the RCMP to ask the retroactive pay be assumed by the federal government.

“We value our relationship with the RCMP and feel that they serve the Canmore community very well,” Krausert said. "And so nothing in this is about that relationship. It really is about the municipalities not being at the table, and then having to foot the bill retroactively.”

He added with the high cost of living, an increase in pay could help attract more officers to the local detachment and, in turn, keep a high level of community policing.

“It does allow us to attract and retain members of our detachment much more easily. When they're not being paid fairly, then that definitely goes to the safety of our community if we can't keep the detachment fully staffed.

“We recognize that there is a cost to having a good police force and we're prepared to pay that,” Krausert added. “It's just the retroactive bill. That comes as a surprise and is a big hit to municipalities.”

Further complicating measures is the way policing is picked up by the province and a municipality. If a community has fewer than 15,000 people, the split sees the province pick up 30 per cent of costs and the municipality the rest.

However, with the 2021 census data expected to push Canmore above the 15,000 permanent resident threshold, it’ll mean the Town covers 90 per cent of policing costs and the province the rest.

The RCMP budget for Canmore was $2.7 million in 2021 and they are anticipating a jump to about $3.3 million – an increase of about $615,000 for 2022 once the census data is released.

During the start of budget talks earlier this month, Town of Canmore finance staff estimated $264,000 equates to about one per cent in the budget. The future bill could mean an added four per cent to the Town’s budget without help from the federal government or dipping into reserves. While the increased pay in future years can be taken into account, retroactive pay is more difficult to assume until numbers are provided.

“We’ve been accruing it every year because, in theory, it’s a current liability of the Town to the extent to that service previous work has already occurred,” said Chelsey Richardson, the Town’s manager of finances during a budget meeting earlier in November.

Therese Rogers, the Town’s general manager of corporate services, also said during the preliminary budget talks that they have planned as much as possible for the impact, but it is difficult until the bill arrives.

“We planned as we heard about it, but there was no idea what those wages would be or predict what our direct impact would be.”

An additional aspect in the budgeting crunch is the inability for municipalities not being able to run a deficit, leading to the money having to come from somewhere and possibly at the expense of services.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) has aided municipalities in a letter-writing campaign to ask for federal government assistance.

The Town of Banff has yet to formally discuss the topic, but will begin its service review for 2022 on Nov. 29.

The Town’s director of communications and marketing, Jason Darrah, said they have yet to receive an invoice for the retroactive pay, but the RCMP has indicated it may not come until the next financial quarter.

He added the Town has had discussions with the AUMA, but talks on joining the FCM resolution have yet to happen at a council level.

“The Town of Banff has accrued money in anticipation of the pay raise. We calculated based on a 2.5 per cent increase, but the increase is 4.5 per cent so the Town of Banff has a net exposure of about $200,000,” he said in an email.

Until the bill arrives or the federal government commits to financially aiding municipalities, it will be a wait-and-see what it will ultimately cost local taxpayers.

“You deal with it when it arrives, if it arrives,” Krausert said. “I'm hopeful that given the circumstances that the federal government will choose to cover these costs rather than put the crunch on every municipality that has an RCMP contract across the country.”