POLITICS
11/16/2011 09:14 EST | Updated 01/16/2012 05:12 EST

Harper names veteran Mountie Bob Paulson new RCMP commissioner

OTTAWA - The RCMP may have a new commissioner, but it has many familiar problems.

In becoming the top Mountie, veteran RCMP officer Bob Paulson assumes command of a storied and iconic national police force that has helped shape Canada.

He also takes the reins at a critical point when the RCMP must fully modernize and make tough choices about what its members do, said Linda Duxbury, a business professor at Ottawa's Carleton University, who has studied the force's management and culture.

"The guy's got a tough job. He's got a cynical, overworked group of people who won't believe that change is possible — and really are very suspicious of leadership, period," she said Wednesday.

"He's also got to manage the government. And that's going to be very challenging."

Paulson, a bilingual native of Lachute, Que., and a former member of the Canadian Forces, was most recently deputy RCMP commissioner for federal policing, overseeing everything from protection of key officials to organized crime probes.

He replaces William Elliott, the force's first civilian commissioner, who announced his intention to step down months ago after an often-stormy four-year tenure. Senior members revolted last summer over Elliott's brash style.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP said Wednesday it would investigate the force's response to internal grievances about workplace harassment during the last five years.

Paulson, 52, said he would deal with the harassment concerns.

"It is my intention to address this problem so that the RCMP once again has the confidence and loyalty of all Canadians."

Under the RCMP Act, a member must be disciplined within one year of the date on which his superior became aware of an infraction. But many internal investigations of alleged harassment take so long that, even if they're well-founded, it's too late to punish anyone.

The government talked about changing the law, but didn't follow through. And the handling of grievances is just one long-standing issue. The Conservative government has yet to act on a list of other recommended reforms to the police force.

Four years ago, a federal task force on the RCMP called for major changes to the structure, independence and oversight of the Mounties.

It urged creation of a management board that would oversee financial affairs, resources, services, property, personnel and procurement. Despite Elliott's endorsement of the idea, the government hasn't moved on it.

The complaints commission is widely seen as lacking because it does not have complete access to information in RCMP files, and does not have the power to review or audit the force's programs and policies.

The Conservatives introduced legislation last year to overhaul the watchdog, but the bill died on the order paper and has not been revived.

"The RCMP file has been bungled by the Harper government," said NDP public safety critic Jasbir Sandhu.

"We will be pushing the government to bring forward changes that make the RCMP more accountable and transparent."

Duxbury says Paulson must realize rank-and-file Mounties have endured crushing workloads with little public recognition or hope for career advancement.

"He's going to be coming in, and quite frankly a lot of them aren't going to believe a word he's going to say. And what's going to be really critical for him is what he does, not what he says.

"There's been no substantive change, and a real loss of faith with the leadership of the RCMP."

Things will quickly go awry if the force continues to ask Mounties to accomplish more without the proper resources, Duxbury said. So government support will be critical to Paulson's chances of fostering real change.

"The success or failure of the change, he doesn't wear it alone," she said.

"He's got to have that backing. Because if he doesn't have that backing, he's a lame duck."