“A bit like carnies”: the international hot air balloon festival returns to High River, Alberta.

By Dean Bennett

The seven candidates vying to be the next leader and premier of the United Conservative Party are split on whether Alberta should establish its own provincial police force.

Four of them said in a debate on Thursday that it was not a plan they would pursue at this time.

“Not right now,” candidate Rebecca Schulz said to cheers from local leaders at the Alberta Municipalities Annual Meeting in Calgary.

“It is not supported by the vast majority of municipalities. And it’s not something that really came to anyone’s doorstep while I was traveling in Alberta.

Schulz said more needed to be done to reduce response time to rural crime and safety in cities, but added that this could be addressed immediately by spending more money on specialized crime units and initiatives. rural police.

Danielle Smith said the goal is to improve policing at no extra cost and that additional systemic changes are needed to help police deal with high numbers of mental health and addictions cases.

“I would like to act immediately by augmenting our current police services (RCMP),” Smith said.

Travis Toews has said he’s in favor of a provincial police service to better tackle crime, but understands municipalities are concerned about being saddled with onerous costs.

“I know you’re worried about having to pay more of the tab,” Toews said, promising to work with local leaders on a solution.

Leela Aheer said there was not enough consultation with municipalities and there were not enough details on how they would be paid.

“There was absolutely no funding information, and it’s weird how that information got to all of our offices,” Aheer said.

“We’ll talk about it and we’ll move on, but I’m not supporting it at the moment.”

Brian Jean said the issue is bigger than more police and must also include stopping “the revolving door of criminals through our justice system”.

Jean added: “I undertake not to withdraw the RCMP from Alberta.”

Todd Loewen said about six in 10 Albertans already receive policing services from non-RCMP officers and the rest should at least be given the option to continue the same deal.

“I support a provincial police force. But do I believe municipalities should pay for this? No,” Loewen said.

Rajan Sawhney called the OPP’s proposal a solution in search of a problem and said greater consultation was needed.

“I am absolutely not in favor of a provincial police force in Alberta,” Sawhney said. “I have not heard a single elected official speak in his favour.

“We’re trying to jump to a solution to a problem that hasn’t been articulated enough.”

Municipalities in Alberta represent and speak on behalf of the villages, towns and cities of the province.

Alberta Municipalities Chair Cathy Heron said she does not support the current model proposed by the government last fall.

But Heron said they are open to a deeper dive into different options, perhaps hybrid models and ways to better address the root causes of crime.

“We would be open to a conversation about a provincial police force — but not the one that’s been proposed,” Heron said in an interview.

Earlier this year, rural municipalities in Alberta said they supported keeping the RCMP and opposed the idea of ​​a provincial police force because the government has failed to demonstrate how it would increase service levels in rural areas.

Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s government is still investigating whether to pursue a plan to replace constables, who currently carry out their duties in rural areas and some small towns.

An independent consultant’s report released last October estimates that it costs Alberta about $500 million a year for the RCMP. The federal government is providing $170 million under a cost-sharing agreement. The report says that if Alberta decides to go it alone, it would cost about $735 million each year, in addition to $366 million in start-up costs.

But he said there is potential for more cost-effective law enforcement by using existing human resources and government financial services to save money, and drafting agreements with municipal forces to share services. specialized.

UCP members will choose a new leader to replace Kenney on October 6.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 22, 2022.

— with files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary