VANCOUVER - British Columbia's premier is warning municipal politicians that failing to sign a new RCMP contract will increase their policing costs and force them to raise property taxes.
Several municipalities, primarily in the Vancouver area, have yet to sign onto a new, 20-year contract with the national police force, despite a deadline that was originally set to run out this week.
The dispute has forced the province to extend that deadline another month, while some municipal politicians muse about dropping the RCMP altogether.
Premier Christy Clark has warned them that leaving the RCMP would cost more because the federal government would no longer be paying part of their policing bill.
"I think the people of Burnaby and Richmond must be concerned, because they get a good deal from the RCMP," Clark told reporters Wednesday.
"It just doesn't make any sense. In Burnaby, where you’ve seen property taxes go up by 25 per cent in recent years, they’re going to have to bring on another big property tax increase, and I don't think people in Burnaby are going to like that."
Under the RCMP contract, the federal government subsidizes 10 per cent of a municipality's policing costs.
Richmond, Burnaby, Port Coquitlam and North Vancouver are among the municipalities that have refused to sign, saying they need more information about what the 20-year contract will cost.
B.C. signed a new deal with the RCMP earlier this year, after contentious negotiations last fall that saw the province and the federal government each issue ultimatums.
In the end, the two governments agreed to a contract that gave the province and municipalities more say over how local RCMP detachments make decisions and spend money.
The province has already signed the deal, but each municipality that uses the RCMP as its municipal force still must sign on.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said there's a good chance his community won't sign if the province doesn't address the concerns raised by city council.
"We have been pressing on certain questions for a number of years, and we’ve got very little response," said Brodie.
"We need some answers before signing."
Brodie said signing such a long contract for a service that takes up about a quarter of the city's budget would be irresponsible until the cost structure is better explained. He also has concerns about the dispute resolution mechanisms in the contract.
Brodie said he's not concerned about the consequences of missing the deadline.
"We've had three deadlines already, and they’ve been meaningless," said Brodie. "So I don't see what the pressure is."
Justice Minister Shirley Bond suggested the new deadline is firm.
"Those municipalities that have not yet signed ... are at risk of losing their federal cost share and would become liable for 100 per cent of their policing costs," Bond said in a statement.
The B.C. Police Act requires any municipality over 5,000 to provide adequate policing services. Alternative options to the RCMP include having an independent police force or partnering with neighbouring municipalities to operate a regional one.
If a municipality chooses not to sign the RCMP contract and does not have an adequate alternative police force in place, the province has the authority to administer policing services and send the bill to the municipality.
Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender, who represented B.C. municipalities during the RCMP contract negotiations, said cities should sign the contract even if they are considering alternative options, because the contract's opt-out clause can be triggered at any time.
Under the opt-out clause, a municipality can pull out of the contract with two years' notice.
"Your best option if you’re looking at changing is to sign the contract, do your research, give your notice, and then you're still paying under the formula where you're getting a benefit out of it," Fassbender said.
"Why wouldn't you do that?"
Fassbender said he would be surprised if all municipalities weren't signed on by the end of June.
But Richmond's mayor insisted there is still a lot of work to be done.
"If we don't agree to something, why would we sign it, only to sign out of it?" said Brodie.
"To me that doesn't make sense."