VANCOUVER - Relations between the federal and B.C. governments appeared to thaw a bit Friday in the dispute over a new contract to keep the RCMP policing British Columbia.
After brinksmanship and sniping earlier this week, James Moore, the federal minister who represents British Columbia at the cabinet table, said he's optimistic a new deal can be reached.
"You know, we agree. We agree on a 20-year timeline, we agree with the funding formula, we agree on the dollar amount, and we agree in principle that the RCMP needs to have checks and balances over the way in which they're going to be spending money over the next 20 years," Moore said while attending the annual convention of B.C. municipal politicians.
The provincial and municipal governments want more say over RCMP spending, but Moore insists the province has not tabled a specific proposal.
Premier Christy Clark said Friday she was pleased to hear Moore's optimism.
She said without some progress, British Columbia may have to consider a provincial police force if it can't get an acceptable deal with Ottawa.
British Columbia has been insisting at the bargaining table that it needs some control over police spending and the Mounties must be more accountable to the communities they serve.
Without those kinds of assurances that policing bills won't balloon, the province might find it's cheaper to go it alone and form a provincial police force, Clark said.
"It might be cheaper than the deal that's on the table today," she said.
"This is why we're fighting for a better deal. This is why we want to make sure we get something that is more reasonable that protects property tax payers better."
Solicitor General Shirley Bond dropped a bombshell earlier this week when she told the Union of B.C. Municipalities that talks with Ottawa over the renewal of the RCMP contract had broken down.
Bond said the federal government had issued an ultimatum: Reach a deal by the end of November or the RCMP will withdraw from B.C. in 2014 when the current contract runs out.
On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told question period "the time is coming to an end."
It was an overt fissure in a federal-provincial relationship that has been largely without cracks for almost 10 years.
Bond said that when British Columbia complained about the ultimatum, the federal government simply forwarded B.C. negotiators a copy of the contracts recently signed by Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Toews called them "cost-effective."
Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia, among other provinces, have said they're hoping British Columbia sets the stage for similar contracts in their jurisdictions.
But Moore said Friday there is no ultimatum.
"What there is a timeline. By the way, nothing is driving this debate to more clarity than the idea of a timeline," he said.
"We're having this debate, forcing all parties to come to clarity on what their positions are so we can all move forward."
Clark brushed aside suggestions B.C. and Ottawa are at loggerheads.
"Our relationship with Ottawa has been very harmonious and it continues to be harmonious," she said.
But she added: "Occasionally we are going to disagree about things. Negotiating a 20-year-deal is a pretty serious undertaking. . . I know the prime minister is just as interested in protecting taxpayers in British Columbia as I am."
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who has been an observer at the contract talks, said he's also encouraged by Moore's comments.
But he said there are still some money issues that need to be hammered out, including how municipalities, the province and the federal government work together to control costs.
"That's a big issue that's going to take time to work out."
Delegates at the convention unanimously endorsed a motion Friday asking the province and Ottawa to get back to bargaining to reach a new deal.