What was to have been a fresh start for RCMP services in B.C. is off to a rocky beginning, with some municipalities saying they won't sign a new contract because of what they maintain was a surprise pay increase for Mounties.
Ottawa, meanwhile, maintains it told provinces about the raise and that pay hikes could be offset by $195-million worth of cuts to the RCMP under the federal government's recently released budget.
Amid the confusion, some municipalities are refusing to endorse a recently inked, 20-year contract between the province and the RCMP, saying there's too much uncertainty over potential costs.
Councillors in the northern community of Terrace on Tuesday voted to delay signing until it can confirm the impact of RCMP pay increases on the town's bottom line.
Richmond also intends to put off its decision until it has more information about potential costs, Mayor Malcolm Brodie said on Wednesday, emphasizing that the new contract is for a 20-year term.
"We need to be very clear about what the terms of the contract are," Mr. Brodie said "One of the biggest complaints we had about the old contract was that we were being asked to pay costs that we didn't know about, that we didn't budget for and that we had no choice but to cover."
In light of that history, Richmond is leery of signing a new deal until it has more information about a recently unveiled compensation package, Mr. Brodie said.
Other municipalities are also mulling whether to put off signing the contract, which was announced March 21 by B.C. and Ottawa, and is supposed to be signed by municipalities in the province by April 30.
The deal was struck after years of wrangling between Ottawa and Victoria, and after B.C. said it was contemplating creating its own provincial police force to replace the RCMP. It came with terms designed to give provinces more say over costs and communication.
The uncertainty and confusion has resulted in a "comedy of errors," said Peter Fassbender, the mayor of Langley and a municipal representative on the team that negotiated the new contract.
In an April 5 letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Mr. Fassbender said an RCMP communication of March 30 outlined seven separate pay increases for RCMP members. The package was put forward two days before the new contract kicked in and is retroactive until January 1, 2012, Mr. Fassbender said.
Noting his "complete shock and surprise," Mr. Fassbender wrote that the development would create a "significant backlash from local governments and their citizens" and asked for more information.
Ottawa, in response, said RCMP members have received a small raise consistent with those for other federal employees and that there will be $195-million in savings from the RCMP budget. Those savings have not been detailed.
The terms of the new contract would preclude such unwelcome surprises from occurring, Mr. Fassbender said – but in the meantime, local governments are bridling over the recent development.
The problem isn't the pay increase, which municipalities had expected, but the way in which it was communicated, he added.
Municipalities say they had to wait until April 4 to learn the deal contains a three-year wage clause that boosted Mounties' salaries by 1.75 per cent on Jan. 1, adds another 1.5-per-cent increase next January and a further 2-per-cent jump in 2014.
Sixty-two B.C. municipalities covered by the new contract must pay the largest share of the costs, including wages.
Some municipalities, such as Kamloops, and three Metro Vancouver municipalities, including Surrey, have already ratified the contract. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has said she doesn't dispute the increase but she's upset local governments were not informed about it.
With files from The Canadian Press