The RCMP’s new collective agreement was ratified in August, but now Alberta municipalities facing wage arrears are looking for answers, ultimately hoping the federal government will foot the bill.
Under the agreement, officers are owed up to five years of back pay. Right now, the 47 municipalities across the province that use the police force will have to shell out millions, which many consider unfair because they do not set wages and were not at the bargaining table.
In Okotoks, county. Tanya Thorn said they have to pay $ 1 million in back wages on their own. While there is no doubt the RCMP was underpaid compared to its counterparts, Thorn said it was up to the federal government – not municipalities.
“It wasn’t something we were able to tone down,” Thorn said. “I couldn’t go into my RCMP department and say, ‘I’m going to pay you guys more. “I don’t have that ability. That’s where the challenge with it all comes.”
In order for the city to cover the increased costs, Thorn said it would need to raise taxes by at least four percent for this budget item, which does not take into account other projects or city needs like the replacement of water pipes or construction of a new arena.
“I had two years with a zero percent tax hike thanks to COVID, so for me to go to my community and do a four percent tax hike that is actually just salary retroactive policy, ”Thorn said. “It’s not acceptable.”
Thorn said they are already anticipating a tax hike this year, due to the pandemic tax freeze.
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The issue is part of the advocacy programs of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
Cathy Heron, Mayor of St. Albert and Director of AUMA, said she has already met with Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and launched a letter-writing campaign to help municipalities appeal to the federal government to reconsider their decision.
“It’s a big blow,” Heron said. “I would say a lot of city governments don’t have the fiscal capacity to cover these retroactive pay increases.”
In St. Albert, Heron said he forecasted an increase in costs and created a reserve. But the money set aside was less than $ 1 million – less than the $ 3 million it will cost the city in retroactive payment.
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“I’m not sure anyone is expecting such a giant blow. The fiscal reality for municipalities doesn’t look good,” she said.
Alberta Justice and Solicitor General office spokesperson Jason van Rassel wrote that the RCMP’s new collective agreement will have significant financial implications for its police clients.
“We are still in the process of determining the precise financial impact, but we believe the deal will increase law enforcement costs by around 20% over the term of the contract,” van Rassel said.
Since the collective agreement deliberations took place without the police clients, van Rassel said the Alberta government believes the federal government should be responsible for the retroactive portion of the contract.
“The result of this process also highlights why the Government of Alberta is exploring the feasibility of establishing a provincial police force to replace the RCMP,” said van Rassel.
In a statement, Public Safety Canada said the provinces knew wages were frozen for five years.
“With ratification, individual contractual jurisdictions are best placed to undertake the required financial analysis and advise on the annual increase they are required to pay as a result of this collective agreement,” one read.
“While the territories, provinces or municipalities determine the models and budgets of policing services, they are in the best position to provide information on the impacts that will result from this collective agreement. “