Mayor contemplates policing alternative

Vernon’s mayor believes the province should look at alternative police services.

Vernon’s mayor believes the province should look at alternative police services.

Wayne Lippert was reacting to news that Ottawa is threatening to start pulling the RCMP out of B.C. in 2014 if the province and cities do not sign a new 20-year policing contract by the end of November.

“The federal government is negotiating on behalf of the RCMP as far as funding a police contract and they’ve given the ultimatum of take the deal or they’re walking away,” said Lippert from Vancouver Thursday, where he is attending the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention.

“I believe we’ll have to walk away. It’s something we’ll have to look at, and the prudent thing for our citizens is to look at alternatives, whether it’s a provincial police force or all of the municipalities hiring their own police.”

Lippert said he would have that discussion with city council.

Looking at alternatives is not necessarily the action the province and its municipalities want to take, said the mayor, because the service from the RCMP has been good.

But at the same time, added Lippert, B.C. can’t just give the Mounties a blank cheque.

“Essentially, that’s what this contract is that they’re presenting, a blank cheque contract,” said Lippert. “They’ll supply policing and we’ll pay, but there’s no provisions for accountability in any place.”

The City of Vernon, in 2011, has budgeted $7.1 million to pay for RCMP officers, and $9.6 million in total police expenses, which includes prison guards and support staff.

B.C. Solicitor General Shirley Bond said the province is “very concerned about the future of this negotiation,” and added that pursuing a provincial police force would be a “very expensive, very challenging scenario to contemplate.”

Also at UBCM, Lippert met with provincial health minister Mike de Jong to discuss the potential for more beds at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, and opening the shelled-in floors of the new Polson Tower.

Lippert and Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster presented de Jong with a petition, organized by VJH doctors and the community, that contained more than 6,000 signatures, and asked if the minister had a funding announcement coming up.

“As much as he’d like to give an announcement for the official opening of the tower (tentatively set for Oct. 13), he said he did not expect there would be such an announcement at that time,” said Lippert. “He said they are looking at the health budget overall and that he expected he may have an answer sometime before the end of the year.

“Even though it sounds like no answer, Mr. de Jong is aware of the situation, he seemed positive and he appreciated the work done by the community. He said Foster is staying on top of him on this matter.”

–with files from Jeff Nagel, Black Press