HALIFAX — More than $20 million in increased policing costs contained in Nova Scotia's spring budget will be passed down to cash-strapped municipalities that contract the RCMP.
Municipalities across the province will see an average rise in RCMP policing costs of 11 per cent for the 2022-23 fiscal year, Justice Minister Brad Johns confirmed in an interview.
“We do anticipate contacting them (municipalities) within the next week or so and telling them what the impact will be,” Johns said Wednesday.
The revelation comes as a commission of inquiry into the mass shooting that killed 22 people in April 2020 examines the RCMP response to the tragedy and its role in rural policing in the province.
“As far as I know, this (increase) is one-time, but it’s hard to predict what’s going to come in the future,” Johns said.
The minister said there hasn’t been any discussion within government about potential help from the province, but he pointed out that four municipalities are currently examining the possibility of replacing the RCMP with other local police forces.
“We will work with them the best that we can and ultimately those decisions as to whether or not they continue with the RCMP or look for an alternative are really up to their councils,” the minister said.
Currently, 10 of Nova Scotia’s 49 municipalities have their own police service.
One of the areas of the province looking at its options is the Municipality of the County of Colchester.
Mayor Christine Blair said in an email last week that policing costs for the 2021-22 fiscal year were more than $5.2 million, or about 16 per cent of the municipality’s budget.
Blair said the money pays for the deployment of six RCMP officers per shift with an understanding that there may be instances — such as illness, vacation or temporary leave — where fewer than six are on duty. A minimum of four officers can operate every shift, she said.
The municipality also pays for specialized services such as a court liaison, a major crimes investigative service and a school safety liaison. In total, there are 34 officers on staff who are dedicated to Colchester, Blair said.
“It should be noted, however, that council has expressed concern over the RCMP's ability to maintain staffing levels since 2015,” she said. “These concerns eventually led to a formal request for a review in April 2020, prior to the (mass shooting).”
Blair said that other Canadian municipalities have also shown concern about potential increases to policing costs resulting from Ottawa’s new collective agreement with the union for RCMP officers.
According to Johns, the increase for RCMP services reflected in Tuesday’s budget includes $3.3 million for staffing.
“Some of this is out of our hands; it’s federal decisions,” Johns said.
Nova Scotia’s contract with the RCMP runs until 2032, and there are regular reviews that are built into the agreement.
But Johns has said he wants to hold off on a potential review until he hears more from the mass shooting inquiry.
“I know there will be recommendations as to how policing is done in the province through that (inquiry),” he said. “The interim report planned to come in May should give some directions.”
According to the Justice Department, municipalities are responsible for paying for 70 per cent of RCMP services while the federal government pays 30 per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2022.
— With files by Michael Tutton in Halifax.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press