Oct 17 2011 VICTORIA - The B.C. government could overrule Esquimalt if the town decides to switch policing from the Victoria Police Department to the RCMP, Solicitor General Shirley Bond said Monday.
Esquimalt and Victoria have been embroiled in a dispute over how the police department is run and how much it costs. Bond said her government asked for a mediator to study the dispute last week after calls for help from both communities.
The government also sent back Esquimalt council's secret decision over whether it wants to abandon VicPD for the RCMP, saying the proposal needed more work.
Both communities are to continue using the Victoria Police Department until at least the end of January.
Bond said earlier on Monday she would not dictate the decision Esquimalt makes on policing, and the municipality can choose whether to contract with the RCMP. But she later corrected that comment by saying she does have the power to override the Esquimalt council decision.
"I do have the ability to say no to Esquimalt, but I don't want to," said Bond.
Bond said she'll need to see satisfactory evidence that Esquimalt council had made its decision after considering all the financial issues that might arise under a new police deal.
The Victoria and Esquimalt police departments merged in 2003.
"The biggest concern we have here is the township of Esquimalt and the City of Victoria cannot work this out. There have been ongoing difficulties for them," Bond said.
She also said she thinks "tough questions" and an "interesting discussion" could be had about a Greater Victoria regional police force in the wake of the Esquimalt- Victoria dispute.
Esquimalt council met in camera Monday night to discuss whether they will publicly reveal their recommendation to the province on who should look after policing — Victoria police or the RCMP. Residents have expressed outrage they'll have to vote in the Nov. 19 municipal election without knowing where the council stands on policing. Mayor Barb Desjardins said the council did not finish discussing the issue Monday and they would have to meet again to decide whether to release their decision.
Premier Christy Clark has ruled out forcing capital region municipalities into a regional police force.
"It's not a priority for us right now," she said in an interview Monday with the Times Colonist. Instead, she wants her government focused on negotiating a province-wide deal for an RCMP contract.
"Let's figure out what's going on with the RCMP first, and let's get this jobs plan working, and if the RCMP contract means we end up with a provincial police force, there's your answer," said Clark. "If we don't ... then it's still a live issue."
Esquimalt councillor Lynda Hundleby said in an interview last week that none of the disagreement around policing would have happened if the province kept its promise to make Esquimalt-Victoria the first step in a Greater Victoria regional police force.
"One of the things we were promised, and maybe that's too strong a word, but one of the things we were told was the fact that this could be the start of a regional police force and we could be the first," Hundleby said. "For me, at that time, it made sense. And it still makes sense."