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Resources for the RCMP

By Colin Kenny

Last year, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale signed off on an annual bonus package for top RCMP brass totalling more than $1.7 million. The bonuses were doled out among 96 senior officers and included $295,514 for six deputy commissioners -- a nine per cent increase over their 2015 bonuses.

The six deputies have difficult jobs and between them manage around 30,000 regular and civilian members. I don't doubt that these bonuses were deserved, but they must be considered in the context of the rank and file Mounties who have not had a raise in over three years.

A 2015 report dealing with pay ranked the RCMP 57th out of 82 police services in Canada. In Charlottetown, a 1st Class Constable in the Charlottetown Police Service makes $82,460 a year compared to $82,108 in the RCMP - not a huge difference but RCMP officers are obligated accept appointments anywhere across the country which has a huge impact on families.

This has a direct effect on recruitment and retention of RCMP members. I put the question to Deputy Commissioner Dan Dubeau recently at a hearing of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence and he acknowledged that "other police forces [are] reaching out to our members and offering them signing bonuses," and that "they're actually quoting the pay as an issue."

I also questioned Commissioner Bob Paulson regarding the pay. He told the committee that when he brought the matter up, the government's response to his enquiry was "stand by."

Three years is a long time to "stand by" after a contract has expired.

Pay discrepancies are having a huge impact on both morale and recruiting. But compensation isn't the only problem plaguing the RCMP. Long back-up times are a huge health and safety issue. In Charlottetown, if constables find themselves in trouble, help is usually only a few blocks away and support can come pretty quickly.

RCMP officers, on the other hand, frequently work in small or remote detachments and often have to wait hours if not days for help. And the RCMP does not have a policy for two constables per car.

Vacancy rates are another issue.

Particularly for smaller detachments of less than 10 people -- of which the RCMP has dozens across the country -- personnel shortages are a significant problem.

Unfilled positions, ill or injured staff, training or annual leave cause many detachments to have a 30 per cent absentee rate. That rate is frequently higher in smaller detachments.

Regardless of the reason, these absences mean more work for the rest of the team and are often cited as a major cause of stress for officers.

The Charter has also given rise to increased time in case preparation. A 30-year study conducted by the University of the Fraser Valley showed exponential growth in the paperwork involved.

New legislation and judicial rulings are continually placing more demands on the force, but the government has not seen fit to provide the necessary corresponding resources. The budget for the current fiscal year is just under $2.76 billion, well below the $3.12 billion provided just four years ago.

The RCMP won't be an attractive employer until the government addresses the fundamental issues of pay and workload. This is ironic because even the most conservative estimates call for the force to grow by 1,500 members over the next four years.

The RCMP is the only police service in Canada that is not unionized. In January 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that RCMP officers had the right to bargain collectively. The government's response was Bill C-7, which would allow for a labour relations regime in the RCMP. However, it was poorly drafted and out of step with police services across the country.

The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence made major improvements to the bill and the Senate voted unanimously to approve the amendments and send the bill back to the Commons.

That was nine months ago.

Since then the government has done nothing on the file.

It's long past time for the Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to take direct ownership of this ridiculous and damaging state of affairs.

[Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.]