VANCOUVER - B.C.'s solicitor general says the federal government has threatened to withdraw RCMP services in 2014 if the province doesn't sign a proposed policing contract by the end of November.
Shirley Bond said the provincial government is now being forced to do the "homework" on the costs of a provincial police force in case further negotiations fail and the federal government makes good on its ultimatum.
She did not reveal what the costs of a provincial police force would be but noted they would be "significant."
"Obviously, we're not very pleased that in fact there has been that type of ultimatum and we look forward to seeing the negotiators come back to the table," said Bond.
She said she would still like to see the RCMP serve B.C.
The current contract between the provincial and federal governments covering RCMP services will expire on March 31, 2012.
Bond said there are 13 independent police forces in B.C. and the vast majority of the province is policed by the RCMP and its 6,000 officers.
In fact, the largest RCMP detachment in Canada is located in Surrey, said Bond.
Currently, the RCMP's presence costs the province $300 million a year and the municipalities $500 million, she said.
Bond said the provinces and territories initially agreed to negotiate one 20-year contract with the federal government, but Alberta and Saskatchewan signed their own deals this past summer.
The remaining provinces asked for an extension to negotiations and sent an alternate proposal to the federal government this past July, said Bond.
She said the federal government responded with a letter indicating the deadline for signing the contract is November.
Peter Fassbender, the mayor of Langley, B.C. and an observer for the Union of British Columbia Municipalities at the negotiating table, said provincial negotiators are still concerned about cost issues like pension and CPP benefits, caps on salaries and how the force runs its headquarters in Ottawa.
"National headquarters, I think, needs to take a hard look at the way they run their business," he said.
Fassbender gave several examples where other costs have increased significantly and the federal government has failed to explain why.
He said the cost for the RCMP's yet-to-be completed divisional headquarters in Surrey was originally pegged at $300 million, but the price tag has now risen to $1.2 billion.
"And there has been no consultation with the province of British Columbia, with any of the local governments as to how that impacts our costs," he said.
Recruiting costs for all Canadian provinces and municipalities served by the RCMP have also increased, said Fassbender.
Just two years ago, he said, that tab was $1.8 million, but it has now risen to $38 million, a majority of which is borne by B.C.'s provincial government and its municipalities because of the large RCMP presence on the west coast.
"And we ask what are you spending the money on and we get a blank look. 'Well, we're not sure what it's all being spent on but, you know, the needs are getting higher.'"
Municipal leaders raised some of their own concerns and urged Bond and Fassbender to continue with their work.
"Accountability without authority sucks, and that's what this situation is," said Dan Rogers, mayor of Prince George. "We haven't moved that needle. We're accountable for costs in our own backyard without the authority."
Rogers said there's a perception that the federal government doesn't support a national police force and suggested the province and municipalities should start considering Plan B, a B.C. police force.
He said that's something he never thought he would have to do, too.
"Stand firm from my position. Don't give the bastards an inch," added Al Siebring, a councillor with the Municipality of North Cowichan which is located on Vancouver Island.
Bond said B.C.'s deputy solicitor general has left for a meeting with those provinces that have not yet signed a deal with the federal government.
"As you can imagine, our goal here has been to bring the team back to the table to work on a deal that works for British Columbia," she said. "So we continue to work to ensure that we have the discussion necessary."