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RCMP collective agreement to have “serious impact” on Burnaby taxpayers going forward

“Seconded, with an ouch.”

That’s how Burnaby city councillor Dan Johnston responded to a report from the city’s director of Public Safety & Community Services Dave Critchley, on the significant financial ramifications of the first ever collective agreement between the RCMP and the federal government.

The agreement, ratified earlier this year, includes retroactive raises for officers dating back to 2017, and it’s going to cost Burnaby an additional $4 million a year going forward.

That’s going to have a “serious impact on the taxpayer” as well—approximately a 1.39% increase. You’ll likely see that reflected in a 2% property tax increase for 2022, expected to cover the RCMP costs but also those of the fire department and other inflationary increases.

But Burnaby essentially has no say in the matter.

Local governments not consulted

The RCMP certified their union in 2019 and after two years of bargaining, ratified their collective agreement this past August. It retroactively took effect April 1, 2017 and will end March 31, 2023.

Local governments—which foot 90% of the bill of the cost of RCMP services—were not included in any sort of consultation while the bargaining took place.

“This collective agreement includes a significant base salary increase for RCMP members as well as additional other direct costs associated with base salary such as benefits. The true impact of the agreement on benefits is not known at this time and to date, the city has not received any direct communication regarding the specific amounts of the retroactive payments,” reads Critchley’s report to council.

“In addition, there will be unknown salary increases for the rank of Inspector and above which have yet to be determined however are anticipated to be resolved in the coming months.”

The city has been planning for increased RCMP salaries, putting away money since 2017 in anticipation of a collective agreement being ratified. It was placing a compounded rate of 2.5% in a reserve each year, based on information provided by RCMP’s E-Division, for a total of 15.97%.

But it turns out those savings fall well below the increases now contained in the ratified agreement—which could reach up to 23.77%. The city, which hasn’t put aside the total amount of that money, now wants to see if there’s any way to space out those retroactive payments over a few years, and find out what kind of interest it would have to pay in that case.

The additional $4.06 million a year would simply cover the costs from next year onwards, and that amount is likely to rise again when the current collective agreement ends in March 2023.

Councillors say officers aren’t to blame for finances

At the October 25 council meeting, Coun Colleen Jordan noted that RCMP officers have for many years made far less than their counterparts in civic police forces like the Vancouver Police Department or the soon-to-be-deployed Surrey Police Service.

“You know, fortunate for us, we benefited from that. And the cost of providing police service in the city was, relative to others, not quite as expensive. But now that piper has come to the door, and we have to pay them, we have to pay the bill,” Jordan said.

“It’s a pretty shocking bill to see … It’s a huge financial impact on the cities that have them. And what really disturbs me is that we had no say in the process.”

Jordan also expressed frustration that the collective agreement had been ratified in the middle of the 2021 federal election campaign—“so no one even has to answer questions. Because, you know, there’s nobody in charge.”

Jordan and fellow councillors Johnston and Sav Dhaliwal were firm on the stance that RCMP officers themselves should not be blamed for their salary increases.

“It’s going to mean some adjustments to be made to our budgeting process and how we go forward, but I don’t want to see that somehow reflected on the RCMP—that they are the culprits,” Dhaliwal said.

“Until 2017, the City of Burnaby has enjoyed lower rates for the RCMP compared to those cities who’ve been paying different rates for policing. So they have finally caught up.”

Coun Allison Gu said she recognized that council had received the report simply for information purposes, “and that the city has no control over the collective agreement that was signed with the federal government and the RCMP in increasing the salaries of individual officers.”

She noted, however, that the RCMP budget would be taking up a significant proportion of the city’s operating budget.

The city is now seeking public feedback on the 2022-2026 financial plan. Residents can submit comments until December 10. The final plan will be adopted early next year.