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Tag: Rural Municipalities of Alberta

Question mark on wooden die

Provincial policing bill draws mixed reaction

Rural municipalities are “cautiously optimistic” that a provincial police service would enhance rural safety, a news item on their association website says.

But members of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta are disappointed they weren’t consulted in the lead-up to the government’s first reading of Bill 11 on March 13, the association for 69 counties and municipal districts says.

The RMA says loose ends remain about how a provincial police service would jibe with the RCMP in Alberta’s countryside. The group singles out a lack of clarity on issues like collaboration, the development of community safety plans, the gathering of community input and the implementation of priorities.

“If supported by proper governance and local input, enhanced police capacity is beneficial to rural communities,” says the RMA item, “but there are risks around having two different entities providing similar services within the same community.”

Less enthusiastic is Alberta Municipalities, which speaks for municipalities other than MDs and counties — big cities down to summer villages. It says that the way Bill 11 came into being is symptomatic of a non-consultative approach.

The province has “a tendency to avoid consultation and engagement,” says an ABmunis new release. “We ask that ABmunis be informed and consulted from this point onwards on this vitally important issue. Much greater collaboration between the two orders of government is needed.”

 

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The organization supports efforts to make life safer and more secure for Albertans, the release says. But it wants to know more about things like costs, governance and any new policing agency’s mandate.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley, meanwhile, slammed the UCP government for pursuing what she calls an expensive and unpopular provincial agency.

“Another day, another broken promise,” Notley said March 14, reacting to the successful first reading the day before of the Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2024.

“Before the election, the premier promised she would not pursue a provincial police force. During the election, the premier promised she wouldn’t pursue a provincial police force. After the election, the premier promised she would not pursue a provincial police force,” said Notley, the member for Edmonton-Strathcona.

“Yet, Mr. Speaker, yesterday the premier’s government tabled legislation to — wait for it — pursue a provincial police force.”

Premier Danielle Smith maintained that the Opposition had it all wrong. The bill is about complementing existing police services and giving Alberta’s sheriffs arms-length governance and civilian oversight, she said.

 

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“We want to govern and regulate them in exactly the same way as the Calgary Police Service, the Edmonton Police Service, the RCMP, with that kind of oversight,” said Smith, the member for Brooks-Medicine Hat. “That is going to augment safety. It’s going to augment our services.”

The premier maintained that issues addressed in the bill are ones her party ran on, and she accused the NDP of wanting to defund police.

“On this side of the chamber we want to give enhanced coverage for the police and enhanced coverage for policing in communities, and that is exactly what we’ve done,” said Smith.

Irfan Sabir, the Opposition’s deputy house leader, said municipalities, unions and Albertans don’t want a new police service. “So why has this government broken its promise and introduced an Alberta police force which no one is asking for?” he said.

The UCP is “ignoring the will of the people and introducing another pet project of the premier,” said Sabir, the member for Calgary-Bhullar-McCall.

Deputy premier Mike Ellis said the NDP is out of touch.

“I can tell you that policing comes up all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about large cities, mid-size municipalities, RMA: they sit there and say that we need law enforcement. That’s why we have unprecedented support.”

 

 

Ellis, the member for Calgary-West, added: “I suggest the members opposite try to disconnect themselves in some way from the unions and actually speak to the boots on the ground. When you talk to the actual sheriffs, when you talk to the people in the community, I can tell you that they want police.”

Ellis, who is also the minister of public safety and emergency services, continued: “I, quite frankly, don’t care what the uniform is. When somebody calls 911, we’re going to make sure an officer shows up, regardless of what the members opposite say.”

According to the website Keep Alberta RCMP, transitioning to a policing model with no RCMP contracts would cost Alberta $371.5 million. Total ongoing annual costs would rise from $595 million shared by the province, municipalities and Ottawa to $759 million shared by only the province and municipalities, says the site.

Keep Alberta RCMP is a campaign run by the National Police Federation, the union for about 20,000 RCMP members. Based on earlier policing ideas floated by the government, the site estimates the total number of actual police officers and staff in Alberta would drop slightly to under 5,000.

The Court and Prisoner Service was renamed Alberta Sheriffs in the early 2000s and expanded into a new area of service called Sheriff Traffic Operations, the forerunner of today’s Sheriff Highway Patrol, press secretary Aurthur Green of the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services told the Local Journalism Initiative in an emailed statement.

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Alberta Sheriffs are responsible for courthouse security and prisoner transport, traffic and commercial vehicle enforcement on provincial highways, and conservation law enforcement for Fish and Wildlife Services. Sheriffs also provide personal protection for senior provincial government officials, as well as security at the legislature and other provincial facilities, Green said.

One way rural Albertans benefit is through surveillance of criminal targets provided by the Sheriff Investigative Support Unit. SISU does the work in support of the RCMP and Alberta Law Enforcement Teams, or Alert.

Also under the sheriff umbrella is the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods unit. SCAN, as it’s called, uses legal sanctions and court orders to hold owners responsible for illegal activities on their properties.

And another function of the sheriffs is the Fugitive Apprehension Sheriffs Support Team, or FASST, which helps police services find and arrest wanted criminals.

About 1,160 positions make up the Alberta Sheriffs, and about 1,000 of those are peace officers, Green said.

Alberta’s contract with the RCMP continues until 2032, “so what’s the rush?” Notley asked the premier in the legislature. “Why bring this bill forward if you have no intention of creating the police force, and why create a police force that nobody wants?”

 

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Highway leading toward mountains with fields filled with wind turbines

Concerns raised over TransAlta’s Riplinger project

A proposed wind farm in Cardston County is facing opposition from a group of residents who say the project threatens the region’s sensitive environment and that their voices are being ignored as the project approaches the regulatory phase. 

The project, dubbed Riplinger by Calgary electricity wholesaler TransAlta, has meanwhile drawn the attention of Pincher Creek’s MD, where the company will likely seek to build a transmission line, according to an information package sent last December to county residents within 1.5 kilometres of the project’s tentative boundaries. 

The Riplinger farm would generate power from 46 wind turbines on 14,000 acres of private land roughly 30 kilometres southeast of Pincher Creek, the package states. James Mottershead, spokesman for TransAlta, later told Shootin’ the Breeze the project would involve 50 turbines. 

Mottershead said TransAlta “introduced” Riplinger to the MD in May 2022, though the company has not filed an application with the Alberta Utilities Commission, which has broad authority to approve utility projects. 

 

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Many people who attended TransAlta’s public information session in Cardston County’s village of Hill Spring last Friday were asked to sign a petition circulated by Riplinger’s opponents. 

“This is the wrong place for a wind farm,” Bill Merry said as locals steadily filed into the village community centre.

Merry said he was frustrated that TransAlta “has done absolutely the bare minimum in communicating with the project’s stakeholders,” many of whom Merry said live beyond Riplinger’s 1.5-kilometre radius. 

“It’s like they’re trying to shove this under the rug,” he added. 

Angela Tabak, who lives in the nearby hamlet of Mountain View, said she’d been networking with residents within the project radius, who can intervene if they notify the AUC that they will be directly and adversely affected by Riplinger. 

Merry and Tabak said they hoped for a public hearing where TransAlta would be called to show its plans to protect migratory birds and other wildlife species, as well as the wetlands between the Waterton and Belly rivers. Fifty people had signed the petition roughly an hour after doors opened at the community centre. 

 

 

Speaking to MD councillors at chambers on Feb. 14, Reeve Rick Lemire held up TransAlta’s information package, which outlines a host of federal and provincial bodies that will enter the regulatory process ahead of the MD and Cardston County. 

 “This is where we fit into the hierarchy of approvals — when everything else is done,” he told council. 

The AUC can approve utility projects over the objections of local governments, according to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act.

“The commission takes into account local governments’ positions on projects, both when they support a project and when they oppose a project. It is incredibly helpful to the commission for municipalities to participate in the AUC’s decision-making process,” AUC spokesman Geoff Scotton told the Breeze.

Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, takes a different view. 

The AUC “ignores municipal planning authority on a regular basis,” he said earlier this month. “They actually institutionally ignore it.”

 

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McLauchlin said renewable energy will play a critical role in southwestern Alberta’s economic future, adding that many food producers have welcomed projects like Riplinger because developers typically pay well to lease private land. That money spurs investment in ranches and farms, but McLauchlin warned that unchecked development on arable land would jeopardize regional food security. 

James Van Leeuwen, who heads a power company in Pincher Creek and sits on the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative’s board of directors, said Riplinger would be “unremarkable” if it weren’t tentatively sited near the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, an environmentally sensitive area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1979. 

“Waterton is an ecological gem,” he said.

Van Leeuwen participated in SASCI’s 2018 regional economic study, which was commissioned by Shell Canada, the Town of Pincher Creek and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, shortly after Shell announced it would probably shutter its Waterton gas plant (Shell Waterton) by 2030. 

Shell Waterton employed about 100 people when SASCI published its findings. Most lived in the town of Pincher Creek, while the plant generated about 20 per cent of tax revenue in the surrounding MD.

The study found that Shell Waterton generated 10 per cent of regional GDP, which renewable energy projects can’t match.

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

Van Leeuwen noted that renewable energy projects might pose similar environmental impacts at the construction phase, especially because concrete and steel bear heavy carbon footprints. 

“But that’s not the point,” Van Leeuwen said. “What we’re looking at are the impacts over the lifetime of the infrastructure and for renewable energy.… We’re displacing a high-impact energy source with a low environmental impact energy source.”

Speaking at last Friday’s info session in Hill Spring, James Mottershead said TransAlta hasn’t finalized plans for Riplinger, including the proposed transmission line. 

Ryan Desrosiers, an environmental consultant retained by TransAlta, said the line would probably come through the MD. Transmission lines are regulated by the AUC in conjunction with the Alberta Electric System Operator, according to Geoff Scotton. 

Desrosiers said TransAlta hopes to host an information session in the MD sometime this spring. 

TransAlta hopes to submit its application for Riplinger to the AUC by June, according to Mottershead.

 

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