Danielle Smith announced last June that she would set the plan in motion if she won the United Conservatives’ leadership campaign, which she did in October.
Premier Smith instructed Ellis in a November mandate letter to “launch an Alberta Police Service” with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
Smith further mandated Ellis, himself a former police officer, to work with local law enforcement and municipal governments to “establish a regional approach to policing in Alberta.”
“There’s no decision that’s been made to establish an Alberta Police Service,” Ellis told Shootin’ the Breeze at a virtual press conference Jan. 24.
The minister said all options are on the table when it comes to curbing rural crime, pointing to Alberta Sheriffs’ success in pulling about 2,220 suspected impaired drivers off provincial highways in the last year and a half.
“The reality is that the RCMP are struggling to meet the needs of Canadians when it comes to policing,” Ellis said, later adding, “The problem is that the RCMP just do not have enough human beings to provide their contracted services.”
Local heads of government disagree — forcefully, in some cases.
“I can’t see how making changes in our provincial policing will have a positive effect on our community,” Crowsnest Pass Mayor Blair Painter told the Breeze.
“We’re 100 per cent behind the RCMP,” Reeve Rick Lemire said on behalf of the Municipal District of Pincher Creek.
Town mayor Don Anderberg preferred not to stake a position at all, citing that town council hadn’t deliberated the issue.
Previous councils had expressed concerns about low staffing levels at Pincher Creek RCMP, but Anderberg said the town has always had “a great working relationship” with the detachment.
The Rural Municipalities of Alberta, which represents 69 rural counties and municipalities, including Crowsnest Pass and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, wrote in a winter 2023 policy statement that “The creation of a provincial police force should not take place unless a detailed feasibility study proves that such an approach will reduce provincial and municipal policing costs and enhance service levels across the province.”
The government’s own findings show that it would cost an estimated $366 million to create an APS and move away from the RCMP. The same report, published by Price Waterhouse Coopers in 2021, concluded that it would cost between $24 million and $49 million less to operate an established APS per year versus the RCMP’s current annual costs, assuming a 20 per cent pay bump in the RCMP’s new collective bargaining agreement with the federal government.
Regional crime is already down considerably across the region, according to the most recent statistics from Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek RCMP. As the Breeze reported in the new year, reported incidents of property crime and so-called persons crime (which accounts for assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, muggings, uttering threats and criminal harrasment) are at five-year lows, according to Pincher Creek RCMP’s Sgt. Ryan Hodge.
Crowsnest Pass RCMP’s Sgt. Rendell Guinchard reported similar drops across both categories over the summer.
Both commanders regularly consult with municipalities in their jurisdictions.
Minister Ellis repeatedly praised members of law enforcement, especially Alberta Mounties.
“As a former police officer, myself, I personally didn’t care what uniform I was wearing,” he told reporters. “I just wanted to make sure that I was providing good service to the people that I was representing.”