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Opinion: City must get tough with feds

Publicly standing up on behalf of Prince George, its taxpayers and its police officers to the federal government will require political nerve and courage from mayor and council.
RCMP detachment2017
The Prince George RCMP Detachment on Victoria Street.

In August, the federal government negotiated a six-year contract with RCMP officers, including a well-deserved 23.78 pay increase to get them on par with provincial and city police forces. The deal is retroactive to 2017 but the feds have yet to provide a dime to municipalities to help pay for it. So now Prince George is on the hook for $6.5 million of back pay and a much higher cost per officer each year going forward.

Fortunately, the city set aside $4 million for this anticipated contract, so the real hit is $2.5 million or about a two per cent increase on next year’s tax bill, before inflation and anything else council decides warrants a tax hike.

So far, all Hall and the rest of council have done publicly is send a frowny letter to Ottawa, along with other similar-sized B.C. municipalities policed by the RCMP, asking for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior Liberal officials.

Well, that’s a start.

But why doesn’t city council pull in Insp. Shaun Wright, the officer-in-charge at the Prince George detachment, to a public meeting, inform him that the city will cover the back pay with the $4 million it has set aside, will tack on a cost-of-living increase for police services in next year’s budget but won’t pay for a cent more.

Wright would correctly state there is no way he can cut $2.5 million from his budget without reducing services and personnel.

City council’s reply should be to direct Wright to prepare the three least-worst options and bring them back to a public meeting of council by the end of January for everyone to see the real cost. Doing so would reframe this problem, not just for city council but for Prince George residents, from a financial dilemma for local government to how the Trudeau Liberals are slashing the amount of police protection in Prince George.

Perhaps City Coun. Garth Frizzell, who ran as a candidate under the Liberal banner in the recent federal election, could also help talk some sense into his pals in Ottawa.

Hopefully, the Trudeau Liberals come forward with the cash but if they don’t, mayor and council have a brutal choice to make in the spring, six months before the municipal election. They either fold to Ottawa and come up with the money by passing on the bill to local taxpayers or they direct Wright to implement one of his three service-reduction options or, perhaps, some combination of the two.

Publicly standing up on behalf of Prince George, its taxpayers and its police officers to the federal government will require political nerve and courage from mayor and council.

Let’s hope they have what it takes to fight the good fight.