Surrey taxpayers are looking at a $46.62-million bill arising from the RCMP’s collective bargaining negotiations concerning back pay for Mounties.
This city, currently home to Canada’s largest RCMP detachment, is taking the largest hit in B.C. to cover its payment retroactive to 2017.
During a press scrum in Ottawa with Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino on March 30, a reporter noted that municipalities are saying they don’t have the funds for this and asked the minister if the government will help the municipalities.
“The short answer is yes,” Mendicino replied.
“We are working very closely with municipalities as well as with provincial governments who contract the RCMP as the police of jurisdiction.”
He did not provide details, however. A government spokesperson told the Now-Leader on Tuesday that help will likely be coming not in financial compensation but rather by “stretching” out the pay period, “so they’ll be able to pay it back over likely a number of years. And we’re working on that with each individual municipality directly, so it’s not going to be like a one size fits all solution.”
Ken Hardie, Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, said the retro pay is “troubling a lot of municipalities.
“The RCMP went without raises, or any substantial raises, for an awfully long time,” he added. “Now they’re playing catch up. So as you heard the federal government will be offering some help.”
The RCMP’s roughly 20,000 members received a $25,000 annual pay raise for sergeants and $20,000 for constables as of April 1. The Surrey RCMP has 843 Mounties and fewer than 20 are not unionized.
A corporate report by Surrey’s general manager of finance Kam Grewal, and policing transition general manager Terry Waterhouse to council last September, indicates that the total retroactive payment from 2017 to 2021, based on the RCMP’s ratified collective agreement, is $46.62 million, with $24.85 million being the total funding shortfall from 2017 to 2022.
A statement emailed to the Now-Leader on March 30 by the city’s communications department, attributed to the city’s finance department, states that city hall has made “provisions in its annual budget for the retroactive and future funding obligations.”
“All municipalities with contracts for RCMP policing in Canada have received communication regarding the details of the RCMP retroactive pay which is now a financial obligation,” the statement reads.
“In September, 2021 with information available at that time the City estimated the impact of the retroactive pay would be $46.62M up to the end of 2021. Cities do not have a role in negotiating the collective agreement and the federal government does not take into account any cities ability to pay when negotiating the agreement. Cities are informed after the fact and the actual costs are known over time as invoices are received.”
The Now-Leader has reached out to Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and Grewal for comment.
Coun. Jack Hundial, a retired Surrey Mountie, said cities were advised to set money aside for this.
“I can’t speak for other cities but I think the City of Surrey was well aware of it and the previous councils were well aware of it. This is once again one of those considerations as they’re going through this police transition to factor this in or not,” he said.
“It should be no surprise to anyone that we are paying police officers certainly around the Lower Mainland and across the country a wage increase which is similar to what other municipalities are paying. I think we should be paying all police agencies certainly what they deserve and what’s been negotiated in their contracts.”
Coun. Doug Elford said because the bill was anticipated by city staff “to a certain degree,” most of the money was set aside. “However, it was a little bit of a surprise to some municipalities that it was more than what the RCMP had originally stated to project,” he said, “and that’s where some communities are struggling.”
Elford said he’s not against fair pay for fair work.
“I think they deserve that amount.”
However, he added, there “was a little bit of overage” that Surrey had to cover in its budget, “and that could potentially affect services,” but none that he “can be specific about.”
Elford said it’s “challenging” when Surrey as an employer doesn’t have a say at the bargaining table, and this is “one of the main reasons I think why the model had to change.
“Tell me any other company that hires a contractor but has no control over them. I mean, it doesn’t exist other than in this model. And so it’s important that the city transitions and that we’re in a position, through the police board, to negotiate the collective agreements in the future.”
Elford noted that some communities policed by the RCMP are lobbying the federal government to subsidize their bills but he hasn’t heard any feedback yet.
“Like I said it’s challenging when you don’t really have a say in pay raise and it’s thrust upon you and you have to manage it and deal with it the best way possible, and I think our staff’s done a pretty good job with that.”