12/23/2011 04:10 EST | Updated 02/22/2012 05:12 EST

RCMP Independent Management Board 'Not A Priority' For Harper Government


OTTAWA - The federal government says establishing an independent management board for the RCMP is "not likely a priority" — even though many see it as a key element of reforming the troubled police force.

Federal briefing notes obtained by The Canadian Press indicate the government is in no hurry to usher in new outside oversight for the Mounties.

The final decision on an oversight board would be up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to the "talking points" prepared last month.

They come to light as new RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson begins his tenure during a stormy period of upheaval and tension within the national police force. Paulson says infusing the force with a renewed sense of accountability and leadership are his chief goals.

The notes, released under the Access to Information Act, were prepared by the Public Safety Department in response to a resolution adopted by the Canadian Association of Police Boards.

Among the board's 2011 resolutions was a call for the government to "establish an independent oversight body for the RCMP, composed of citizens served by the RCMP, with the necessary powers to effectively fulfill its role, including the power to oversee RCMP policy, the RCMP budget and to hire the RCMP Commissioner."

The association noted that public confidence in the Mounties had waned and that oversight helps ensure police are free from political interference. It also reduces the possibility of bias that can arise when the police force reports directly to a federal minister, said the association.

The internal briefing notes say the RCMP "has a unique and complex operating environment and its governance framework must be carefully considered with that in mind."

The government's priority has been selection of a new RCMP commissioner, add the notes, apparently intended for use by the Public Safety minister or a senior departmental official.

In addition, the government "has committed to consulting with provinces and territories" prior to making any decision on a new board.

"I would also like to emphasize that any decision regarding a board of management for the RCMP is the prerogative of the prime minister," say the notes.

"Should there be any movement on the issue ... we will let you know. However, in our view this issue will not likely be a priority for the government" or the new RCMP commissioner early in his term.

In 2007 a federal task force on the RCMP called for major changes to the structure, independence and oversight of the Mounties.

To ensure a more independent RCMP would be accountable, the task force also called for creation of a management board that would oversee financial affairs, resources, services, property, personnel and procurement.

A federal Reform Implementation Council on the RCMP supported the move, as did then-commissioner William Elliott.

In a recent interview, Paulson said that "decisions with respect to structure and machinery and so on are the business of the government."

The briefing notes point out the government plans to reintroduce legislation to modernize the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP — the watchdog that keeps an eye on the force — after the bill died on the order paper.

However, the measure has not been a public safety priority so far this parliamentary session, taking a backseat to the government's omnibus anti-crime bill and legislation to scrap the long-gun registry.