04/11/2012 11:25 EDT | Updated 06/11/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. cities delay inking new RCMP deal while awaiting wage hike explanation

TERRACE, B.C. - Some British Columbia mayors say they won't ratify a new RCMP contract because of unexpected wage hikes for the Mounties that weren't revealed before the province negotiated the 20-year deal with the federal government.

Councillors in the northwestern B.C. city of Terrace have refused to sign the new RCMP services contract until municipal governments across the province get some answers about wages.

And Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said before his city signs on, he's waiting to hear input from other mayors at an April 20 meeting called to discuss the matter.

Three Metro Vancouver jurisdictions — Surrey, Kelowna and Langley — have already ratified the contract.

But Brodie said he was surprised to learn last Thursday about a 5.25 per cent RCMP wage hike over three years that cities and municipalities will be forced to hand over from their cash-strapped budgets.

He said there was no mention of any such increases during protracted negotiations with Ottawa that had B.C. threatening to pull out over costs before the province inked the agreement with Ottawa last month.

"I just think that it behooves all of the cities to take a longer look at what they are being asked to approve because it's a long-term commitment," Brodie said Wednesday.

"This confusion that has been injected into the conversation, it gives you a lack of ease over the whole contract and negotiations. You wonder, `If we didn't know about that, what else are they going to spring on us?'"

He said unexpected costs were a major criticism of previous RCMP contracts. Now, just such an issue so soon after the contract was negotiated to build trust with the RCMP has shaken his confidence that much has changed, Brodie said.

"I don't think anybody's trying to pull anything," he said. "Although I won't ascribe any negative motivations here, the fact is that there's been confusion here and a shifting of the goal posts and that is not right at any stage, particularly at the outset."

Brodie said mayors knew there would be some cost hikes to come after the deal was signed, but not 1.75 per cent in the first year. The increase means Richmond could be spending up to an extra $3 million on policing costs in the initial two years of the contract.

Sixty-two B.C. municipalities covered by the new contract must pay the largest share of the costs, including wages.

Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said cities knew months ago that raises of about 1.5 per cent were possible this year, although the cities and provinces learned of the extra pay through the RCMP.

Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender has sent a letter to Toews on behalf of the Union of B.C. Municipalities asking for more information about the surprise increase.

In the letter, Fassbender expressed his "complete shock and surprise" over the wage hikes.

However, he said in an interview Wednesday that the 1.75 per cent hike in the first year of the contract won't add too much more to cities' bottom line and that the issue is being blown out of proportion.

"I think it is a function of timing of a federal budget, of a lack of communication I suspect even in Ottawa between two departments and so I think it's a comedy of timing and a comedy of errors in communication that shouldn't have happened," Fassbender said.

"I think there are some people who are overreacting to the circumstances. I don't think there was any disingenuous attempt by the federal government to pull something on the provinces and the territories."

Fassbender said the contract gives cities and municipalities a two-year opt out clause and allows reviews every five years.

"The salaries have never been a huge issue," he said.

"If local communities choose not to sign the contract, they are giving two years' notice and I can tell them right out of the chute that their costs will go up 10 per cent going to a municipal force," he said referring to the 10 per cent in policing costs Ottawa contributes under the newly negotiated deal.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has said she doesn't dispute the increase but she's upset local governments were not informed about it.

B.C.'s Justice Minister Shirley Bond has said Ottawa has assured her that administrative savings of about $195 million will partly be shared with cities and could offset the wage hikes.

Besides B.C., which has the highest number of Mounties in Canada, five other provinces and three territories signed deals with Ottawa in March.

Alberta and Saskatchewan inked agreements last year and Ontario and Quebec have their own provincial police services.

-- By Camille Bains in Vancouver