The Alberta government has rolled back its pursuit of a provincial police force, contrary to mandate letters sent to Premier Danielle Smith's first Cabinet in November.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Mickey Amery told reporters his department continues to consult Albertans on policing despite not receiving explicit direction from Smith in her recent mandate letter.
Alongside Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis, then-Justice Minister Tyler Shandro consulted residents on the need for a provincial police force preceding May's general election.
As recently as last November, Smith prioritized the plan in her mandate letters to her first cabinet.
On November 9, 2022, the premier directed Shandro to work with Ellis to "finalize a decision on establishing an Alberta Police Service."
She also directed Ellis to work with the Justice Ministry to "launch an Alberta Police Service" at that juncture.
After tabling Budget 2023, the UCP announced $9.7 million for Grande Prairie over two years to aid transition costs to a municipal police force.
Mayor Jackie Clayton said the initial funding would give the city confidence to make a change. Total costs would amount to an estimated $19 million.
In March, Grande Prairie City Council initiated their efforts to replace the RCMP with a municipal police service in a near-unanimous vote.
Ellis called the move "part of a paradigm shift in policing across Alberta," adding a community-led police service would serve the region better.
At the time, the minister said a decision on a provincial police service had yet to be made.
The Alberta police force option has been studied and touted by the Alberta government for years. Still, it has faced opposition — including from municipalities — over cost, implementation and staffing concerns.
A recent 120-page government report outlined that dumping the RCMP would initially cost $366 million and an estimated $200 million annually.
Another report released in 2021 put the total price tag for a provincial police force at between $734 million and $759 million.
The Opposition NDP accused the UCP of fighting the symptoms of crime but not the underlying problem, including housing, mental health support, and addiction treatment.
"The UCP will spend hundreds of millions of dollars just to set up a new police force when Albertans want better policing focused on addressing crime and its root causes," said NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir earlier this year.
But Alberta Public Safety and Emergency Services said they couldn't ignore Ottawa's commitment to the RCMP contract and its future sustainability.
"It would be negligent and bad governance not to examine all options available to keep Albertans safe," they said.
Rebel News attempted to reach the Justice and Public Safety ministries for comment but did not receive a statement at the time of publication.
Public opinion polls consistently suggest that most Albertans do not support a new provincewide force.
A January telephone poll from a pool of 900 residents found two-thirds of respondents believe a police change would not reduce crime.
While 15% claimed it would have a significant impact, 85% said they needed the idea in a referendum before deciding whether to support it.
Nearly two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed concurred with the NDP Opposition, stating they should address the root causes of crime.
Pollster Janet Brown added that municipalities have generally opposed a provincial police service.
"Outside the two major cities who would be most impacted by replacing the RCMP, that number was 74%," she said, with 61% believing crime rose in their community.
Between 2017 and 2021, Alberta's crime rates per 100,000 residents show a 14% increase in violent crime and a 24% increase in violent crime in rural areas.
Over half (55%) of rural Albertans favoured increased funding for law enforcement before making a change.
"[This] underscores people's concern with crime," said Brown. "It's economic downturns and substance abuse that's driving it — and that if we're not [changing police forces] to prevent crime, then why are we doing it."
Fast forward to May, and Smith refused to campaign on the provincial police plan during the provincial election, stating her government would revisit the issue after polling day.
"Our sheriffs, for instance, are doing a great job," she said.
Earlier Tuesday, the premier provided the Justice minister with her mandate, outlining his priorities this session — which did not include launching an Alberta Police Service.
On Monday, Smith handed Ellis his mandate without mention of pursuing a provincial police force, either.
Instead, she directed Ellis to continue working "with local communities to support them with the community policing options they believe will best serve their populations."
The Canadian Press asked Amery twice Tuesday in an interview to clarify the status of the provincial police force and whether the government had effectively shelved the plan.
"I would simply say to you that we are going to continue to listen to Albertans, to learn about their needs, challenges, and concerns, and then bring that back to [cabinet] and to caucus for further contemplation," he replied.
The new mandate letters emphasize the need to address the root causes of crime, including more frontline resources to prevent gang activity, battle border smuggling, and reduce crime rates.
Amery's letter directs him to "implement a strategy to ensure violent criminals and gang members are detained and effectively prosecuted."
Alberta Justice continues working with Ellis to create "a specialized prosecution unit to address deteriorating safety in Alberta's major urban centres."
As part of the mandate for public safety, Smith directed Ellis to add 100 more patrol officers to Edmonton and Calgary and create specialized sheriff-led teams to fight drug and gun smuggling, particularly along the U.S. border.
The public safety minister has also been told to expand using sheriffs in street-level law enforcement, develop more units to fight gang crime and implement an ankle bracelet monitoring program with 24/7 bail monitoring of violent and sexual offenders.