BC Mayors howled over RCMP contract, but memos prove they knew the numbers all along
By now you’ve likely heard how outraged, surprised and shocked BC mayors are about a new deal that provides RCMP personnel with a roughly 5 per cent pay increase over the next three years. It’s a collective agreement that took a long time to hammer out and has triggered a political firestorm in municipalities throughout the province.
Based on the over-the-top reaction by some local mayors to the agreement, you might have thought they were kept completely in the dark about the impending hike in salary. But the reality is local councils were advised by the federal government, as far back as May 2011, that a hike in RCMP costs was very likely.
In fact, a letter sent to local mayors by RCMP officials on May 16th, 2011, included “a detailed listing of actual costs for fiscal year 2009/10, pre-final costs for 2010/11, budget for current year 2011/12 and forecasted estimates for 2013-2017 inclusively.”
Fassbending the facts?
Peter Fassbender, Mayor of Langley, was BC’s municipal representative when it came to the negotiations. Here is an excerpt from the CBC website whereby he's referenced:
Fassbender said there was no mention of pay raises during the negotiations.
"This was being done by Treasury Board, which is where the pay council for the RCMP is housed," Fassbender said. "And it was part of the federal budget. So what's disappointing is that there was no heads up given by Treasury Board to anybody, even in their own federal ministry, that this was going to be coming down."
Fassbender said, from what he understands, the Treasury Board's directive allows RCMP members to receive pay raises over each of the next three years, beginning immediately.
Fassbender said he did not know details on the amount of the raises, but he and other municipal leaders are concerned that the additional expense could be an unforeseen financial hit in the millions of dollars per municipality.
So just when you thought Fassbender was all worked up over how much this RCMP agreement was going to cost his local taxpayers, the following appears in the Globe and Mail:
The problem isn’t the pay increase, which municipalities had expected, but the way in which it was communicated, he [Mayor Fassbender] added.
Then today he tells 24 Hours Vancouver:
It’s not correct for them [municipalities] to say they were totally blindsided but what is correct is that we don’t have the details yet on the scope of the package that was in the budget.
Needless to say, Fassbender's messaging on this has been all over the map. One minute he's concerned about spiralling costs, the next he chalks this up to poor communication.
Fassbender has since clarified he was not expressing concern about the year-over-year scheduled salary increases the RCMP advised him about last year. Rather, he's upset about other aspects of the collective agreement that to date have not been given a price tag.
'Why the fuss?' say other mayors
Some mayors don't seem to understand what all the fuss is about. Barb Desjardins, Mayor of Esquilmalt, was quoted in the Times Colonist:
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins says B.C. mayors should not be surprised at the RCMP salary hike, as local politicians were reminded about the raise as recently as January.
Desjardins said she participated in a webinar aimed at mayors served by the RCMP – she was invited because her municipality wants to switch to the Mounties – and jotted down a note about a five per cent hike over three years.
"I looked through my notes, and I wrote down the increases that everyone is saying they're missing," Desjardins said. "I don't think people should be surprised."
It appears the City of Chilliwack also wasn't caught off guard. Mayor Sharon Gaetz is quoted in MyChilliwackNews.com:
There has been a municipal uproar over an unexpected pay increase with the new RCMP services contract that Langley Mayor, Peter Fassbender called a "comedy of errors in communication." This seems to fly in the face of the Harper Conservative government, throwing the axe and slashing budgets and programs.
Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz sees the situation a little differently. She says our city was ready for any increase, which amounted to a 5.25 per cent wage hike for the Mounties. “We were aware of the fact that there was going to be a contract negotiation going on that would probably result in an increase in RCMP wages, so we prepared for that.”
Mayors call a meeting
The fact that a number of mayors aren't reading off the same song sheet is likely the reason the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has organized an urgent and "confidential" conference call on Thursday starting at 3:30 pm. Although it's supposed to be confidential, UBCM has publicly posted the teleconference number 1-877-353-9184 and the access code 2564746# online for any media person or member of the public to view. A
A UBCM briefing note dated April 16th is pretty clear about the fact BC Mayors were advised by the Federal Government to prepare for a possible increase in compensation for local RCMP staff. It states (our emphasis):
May 16, 2011 – All municipalities received a five year plan from the RCMP with detailed projected budgets. The Notes and Assumptions pages indicate that the five year plan is based on the assumptions that the RCMP will get raises over the five years starting in 2012 of 1.5%, 1.5%, 1.5%, 3.5% and 3.5%.
In June 2011 the RCMP called for a Contract Advisory Committee conference call and provided an update on Pay and Compensation as follows:
- The Budget Implementation Act remains in place until 2013.
- Federal Treasury Board has stated that any pay raises would have to be found within existing departmental budgets.
- Federal Treasury Board has indicated that 1.5% appears to be the standard pay raise over the next three years.
- The RCMP is approximately 5% behind the average of the top three police forces in Canada for total compensation.”
The memo goes on to state (emphasis ours):
End of November 2012 – Negotiations conclude – Agreement in Principle reached.
Jan 27th 2012 – E Division’s Director of Finance told CAO-PPC meeting (Lower Mainland city managers) for prudent budgeting purposes they should be including in their budget plans an increase for RCMP members. He suggested 1.5 % and advised if they wanted to be conservative they may want to include a slightly higher rate. The Province is not aware of follow up to this information in writing – the discussion about the 1.5% increase was not recorded in the minutes. There was no discussion about the other compensation elements.
Despite not knowing if the new RCMP deal will actually cost them a penny more than what was projected last May, city politicians continue to openly complain to their local MLAs and the media.
Opposition MLAs go on the attack
Even the BC NDP’s Solicitor General Critic Kathy Corrigan and her caucus colleague Doug Donaldson, MLA for Stikine, weighed in to the discussion in the BC Legislature this week.
Donaldson stated during Tuesday’s question period “…many small communities in rural B.C. face an unexpected increase in RCMP compensation this fiscal year”. He goes on to say “Taylor Bachrach, the Mayor of Smithers, says it all translates into a tax increase that is out of the community's control.”
The truth is that the bulk of the scheduled salary increases were not “unexpected”. Nor is it likely that unknown components of the agreement will translate into any kind of massive tax increases for local rate payers.
That’s because the federal government already agreed to kick in more funding to offset increased policing costs. Here is what the Langley Advance is reporting:
One positive change that will soon save the Langleys some money on policing is a reduced cost for integrated teams.
Units like the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) or the Police Dog Service will soon be funded at a 70-30 ratio by the municipalities and Ottawa, rather than the old 90-10 ratio.
That should be a significant savings for local governments, Fassbender said.
In addition, the Feds indicated they are intent on reducing the costs of policing overall. Here is what a spokesperson for the Minister of Public Safety told me in response to my inquiry:
Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to keep our streets and communities safe. That means giving our frontline police officers the tools they need to do their job. RCMP members have received a small raise, consistent with other Government of Canada employees. Under the terms of the recently concluded agreement, BC will have a greater role in determining future compensation. In fact the terms of this raise were shared with the provinces and municipalities in Spring 2011.
I would point out that Economic Action Plan 2012 saves taxpayers $195 million from the RCMP budget. As there are no frontline officers impacted by these cuts, the majority of these savings will be realized in administrative efficiencies that will also reduce costs for contract jurisdictions, like BC.
In other words, the howls of outrage from municipal mayors are nothing more than crying wolf.
- Post by Daniel. You can also read Daniel's civic affairs columns every week in 24 Hours Vancouver.