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Alberta’s Stealth Move to Create a Provincial Police Force

The UCP introduces a bill that sets the stage for dumping the RCMP despite public opposition.

David Climenhaga 15 Mar 2024Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on X @djclimenhaga.

One thing you can count on is that the United Conservative Party never gives up on a bad idea.

Take the notion of dumping the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and setting up an Alberta provincial police force, for example.

Very unpopular.

So you might have thought that was why the UCP appeared to abandon it before the provincial election in May last year.

And you may have been relieved when you heard Premier Danielle Smith hadn’t put it in her new justice minister’s mandate letter in August.

After all, even if you’re not a fan of the Mounties, you have to know it would cost a fortune to set up a provincial police force and there would be a danger it would end up acting as a partisan political enforcement agency for the UCP.

But bad ideas never really go away when the UCP has them. Sometimes they just rest for a little while.

So, Wednesday afternoon, the UCP tabled Bill 11 in the legislature, which comes with a nondescript title, the Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2024.

But if passed — which, of course, with the UCP’s majority, it will be — it will permit the provincial government to create a “new, independent police agency.”

While the government’s news release was carefully composed to obscure the obvious, the obvious is that this will be the start of the provincial police force the UCP said it wasn’t going to start.

According to the news release, it will establish “a new organization that would work alongside police services across the province. Officers in the new agency would take on responsibility for police-like functions currently carried out by the Alberta Sheriffs.”

Now, that’s just boilerplate bureaucratic pish-posh, designed to misdirect.

As for “Public Safety” Minister (a title that deserves scare quotes if ever one did) Mike Ellis’s canned quote from the news release, he said “these changes are part of a broader paradigm shift that reimagines police as an extension of the community rather than as an arm of the state.”

Can’t make this stuff up! What the hell is that supposed to mean? Armed vigilantes?

Ellis also noted that Alberta will start using ankle bracelets to monitor people facing charges who manage to get bail. Ho-hum.

The government’s change that matters, explained Dean Bennett of the Canadian Press, will “elevate its sheriff service department into a new stand-alone police force.”

Ellis insisted to reporters that “this legislation does not create a provincial police service in replace of the RCMP.”

Right. OK. But it sure makes it easy to set one up in a hurry the next time having the RCMP around seems like a major inconvenience to the UCP, doesn’t it?

Or to put that another way, we’ll keep the Mounties till their contracts run out in 2032, then we’ll have a provincial police force ready to go.

As Edmonton Journal columnist Keith Gerein observed on social media, the UCP is “creating new police service with mystery mandate.... Essentially, the province is tabling a bill to create a new provincial police force, but can’t say what the force is actually going to do, how big it will be, what its jurisdiction is relative to other police, and what it will cost.”

NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir called the bill another broken UCP promise. “An Alberta police force would be extremely costly for Albertans. Municipalities made it loud and clear they don’t want it, Albertans don’t want it, but Danielle Smith, yet again, doesn’t listen.”

Well, surely by now we know better than to expect anything else.

The idea of replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force hearkens back at least to the Stephen Harper gang’s notorious Firewall Letter, the 2001 indépendantiste manifesto penned by a small group of ideological right-wingers associated with the University of Calgary who were sour about the Conservative loss in the federal election the year before.

“Start preparing now to let the contract with the RCMP run out in 2012 and create an Alberta Provincial Police Force,” the group of sore losers grumped in the letter to Conservative premier Ralph Klein. “We have no doubt that Alberta can run a more efficient and effective police force than Ottawa can — one that will not be misused as a laboratory for experiments in social engineering.”

You know, like having the makeup of the national police force reflect the makeup of the nation.

There were several other terrible ideas in the Firewall Letter, including replacing the Canada Pension Plan with an Alberta pension “giving Alberta control over the investment fund,” setting up the province’s own tax collection agency and getting out of the Canada Health Act to make it easier to destroy public health care.

At the time, all that went nowhere. Now-sainted premier Klein, recipient of the epistle from the then president of the so-called National Citizens Coalition and his five sidekicks, nevertheless sensibly stuffed it in the recycle bin the instant the Gang of Six were out of sight.

Harper, of course, dropped it in public like the proverbial hot potato the instant he realized he had a chance to become prime minister... of Canada.

But there were other connected, influential guys in the Firewall Gang, too, and they presumably kept talking it up at their school of public policy lodge meetings.

One of them, professor Ted Morton, became the worst premier Alberta never had. Another, professor Tom Flanagan, was Danielle Smith’s campaign manager in the 2012 election — the one that Alison Redford won.

No doubt coincidentally, the Alberta police force and other Firewall follies didn’t reappear on the Alberta agenda until Harper was defeated in the fall of 2015 by Justin Trudeau — who, by coincidence, was in Alberta Wednesday to exchange meaningless talking points with Smith.

Before long, Alberta’s first United Conservative premier and biggest Brexit fan, Jason Kenney, had set up his “Fair Deal Panel” to put Harper’s 2001 sovereignty association screed back in the microwave, give it a couple of spins at low power, and serve Firewall leftovers barely warm.

By June 2020 it was obvious that the Fair Deal Panel had listened to only six people other than Kenney himself: Harper, Flanagan, Morton, Rainer Knopff, Andy Crooks and Ken Boessenkool, the original manifesto signatories.

But by July 2021, sensible Albertans again thought they could breathe a sigh of relief, when Kenney announced he was giving up on his police force and pension schemes.

That lasted only till the fall of 2022, though, when the whole thing resurfaced again as part of the Free Alberta Strategy, promoted by Smith’s former Wildrose Party house leader Rob Anderson, now the director of her premier’s office.

The outright separatist scheme even had a toxic new idea added to the brew — the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.

It, in turn, disappeared from the UCP’s official agenda again in the lead-up to the 2023 election, and has now resurfaced in its wake.

And it will never go away, unless the UCP is required to leave office.

Until then, bad ideas never die. They just go to Alberta and hang around.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Alberta

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