Alberta government pitching that small rural areas pay for policing: NDP

Those 291 districts represent about 20 per cent of the Alberta population

Alberta’s Opposition says the government is proposing to small municipalities and rural areas that they begin to pay for some, or maybe most, of their policing costs.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley says in some cases municipalities are being told they may have to pay up to 70 per cent, which would average out to $406 per resident a year.

Notley says the details are in a transcript released by her caucus of a webinar broadcast earlier this month by Justice Department staff to municipal officials.

Notley says the proposal flies in the face of a government that won last spring’s election in part on a promise to be there for rural residents dealing with crime.

Small municipalities under 5,000 residents and other rural districts have their policing costs covered entirely by the province at a cost of almost $233 million a year.

Those 291 districts represent about 20 per cent of the Alberta population.

In the webinar transcript, officials say they want to move to a model in which districts would pay between 15 and 70 per cent of the cost. They don’t say why they want to change the formula or where the savings would go.

Notley said Premier Jason Kenney has broken faith with rural Albertans.

“It would seem that for all the bluster and promises made by this premier about taking the task of fighting crime seriously, he actually left out one important detail in the last election. And that is that rural Albertans will have to pay significantly more in order to ensure that they have safety in their communities,” Notley told a news conference Wednesday.

“(And) in return for paying this brand new bill, they will see no improvement in services, no additional boots on the ground.”

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, who is touring the province listening to concerns on rural crime, was not made available for an interview and instead issued a three-line statement.

“The assertions made by the fearmongering NDP are ridiculous and unfounded and once again demonstrate the NDP’s complete lack of financial literacy,” he said.

“Our government made a commitment to Albertans to consult on the police funding model that became broken under the NDP. We are investing more in policing, not less.”

Schweitzer’s statement did not address the NDP’s specific concerns, nor did it say whether his department is indeed seeking to have rural municipalities pay some of their policing costs and, if so, how much.

Kenney has said that the government needs to find savings to end the multibillon-dollar budget deficit in four years.

He campaigned on a platform to reduce rural crime, promised to hire more prosecutors and recommended that crimes in rural areas be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing.

While still in government, Notley’s NDP brought in a $10-million rural crime strategy that included streamlining and hiring more police and prosecutors.

The 2018-19 Justice Department’s annual report says that led to reduced car thefts and break and enters and a nine per cent drop in rural property crime.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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