"The province has reached a final agreement with the federal government for a new RCMP contract, a milestone achievement that reflects the province's vision for a new partnership based on transparency and accountability."
B.C. Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Shirley Bond, March 21
WHO is giving British Columbians the straight goods on the wage increases contained in the new RCMP contract?
Is it Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, municipal observer during federalprovincial negotiations to renew the expiring contract, who told CBC on Apr. 5 "there was no mention of pay raises during the negotiations"?
Is it Surrey's "blindsided" mayor, Diane Watts, who, along with the council of Maple Ridge, has already ratified the agreement?
Is it B.C. Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Shirley Bond who, after the milestone achievement, indicated she supports the concerns of B.C. municipalities and is trying to clarify details with the federal government?
Or is it federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who says RCMP raises were discussed with provincial negotiators in February and July, 2011?
Anyone who pays attention to municipal budget deliberations knows the largest operating expense - upwards of 70-80 per cent - covers public sector salaries and benefits.
So if provincial negotiators and two municipalities signed a 20-year agreement without asking for details of the salary contracts included in that agreement, they failed in their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.
On the other hand, if Toews is correct when he says the matter was discussed twice last year - once in a conference call - then either the negotiators who were there to protect the interests of British Columbians were not paying attention, or they heard it and signed anyway.
However this political mayhem plays out, it is unlikely to answer a question that arose well before negotiations began: Why did the RCMP decide to build a multi-million-dollar headquarters in Surrey without knowing its contract would be renewed?
This begs the question: Was the contract already a done deal and negotiations staged merely for taxpayers' amusement?
What part, if any, did former West Vancouver police chief Kash Heed's preference for a provincial police force play into his conveniently timed eviction from the negotiating table?
Why Surrey's haste to be the first signature on the new contract? Had the municipality spent more time on due diligence, perhaps Watts would not have been blindsided and taxpayers would know a great deal more about the deal they must pay for - because there's more to be concerned about than the first three years of wage increases.
Over the years, whenever the question was asked, municipalities were always told that retaining the RCMP was cheaper than going it alone because the federal government pays 10 per cent of policing costs for communities with populations greater than 15,000 and 30 per cent for communities below that level.
Trouble is, those costs have never been validated; municipalities have no way of knowing if, where or when the federal government manipulates the 90: 10 and 90: 30 formulas to the detriment of local taxpayers.
What we do know is that, in return for federal largesse, municipalities have conceded much of the say over how the force delivers our policing services. When it comes to the carrot of increased local control and accountability said to be included in the new contract, the federal government still wields the big stick.
Two-year opt-out clauses and five-year renewal terms notwithstanding, this will not be a fixed-price contract.
Indeed, as the three-year wage pact shows, British Columbians have no reason to trust that federal rules will not still apply, especially when costs can be downloaded onto provincial and local shoulders.
Now for a different side of the policing picture, this time in Metro Vancouver:
Just before Easter and before the RCMP contract issues blew up, I re-read the 2010 Consolidated Financial Statements of the South Coast Transportation Authority - TransLink.
Of special interest was that the statements showed TransLink had 177 transit police officers who earned more than $75,000 that year. Give or take a few dollars, the total cost of those officers was $17.5 million in salaries and expenses.
To the tune of over $16 million/year, my decision to err on the side of caution came home to roost on Friday the 13th following release of a report by the Regional Transportation Commissioner, Martin Crilly.
You see, rather than exaggerate my point by including assumptions about what I expected would be minimal additional costs for officers earning under the $75,000 bar, I decided the picture was gloomy enough and initially submitted this column using only the numbers I could prove.
Shame on me!
Crilly's report pegged the 2011 total costs for transit police, "security" and civilian support staff at a staggering $33.85 million.
Lacking an answer from the RCMP by deadline, I contacted District of North Vancouver Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn - a former member of the Vancouver Police Department - to ask for an estimate of the cost to deploy a "regular" police officer in Vancouver.
"Rough numbers are $120,000/officer/year," he replied. "And that includes everything from soup to nuts."
So, still exercising caution, if MacKay-Dunn is close to the mark, more than 226 additional police officers could be deployed across Metro Vancouver for the taxpayer dollars TransLink spends on a variety of security services - mostly in a futile effort to stop fare evasion at SkyTrain stations.
Are you receiving good value for your policing dollars?