Jul 13 2011
OTTAWA -The search for a new RCMP commissioner narrowed sharply this week with the withdrawal of two front-running candidates and an appeal to an outside police chief to throw his hat in the ring.
The Star has learned that among those being “headhunted” and encouraged to seek the job is Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Chris Lewis, as the Mounties seek a replacement for embattled civilian Commissioner Bill Elliott.
Lewis’ candidacy comes amid word of the surprise retirement of Peter Hourihan, 53, deputy commissioner and commanding officer for B.C. and a move by Vern White, a former RCMP assistant commissioner and past Durham police chief, to renew his contract as Ottawa police chief for another three years.
The Star already reported Luc Portelance, head of Canada’s border services agency, a former Mountie and past deputy operations director at CSIS, tops an ever shorter list of contenders to replace Elliott.
That’s because over the past 18 months, several senior RCMP executives considered to be successors in line for Elliott’s job have chosen to retire or quit the force to take other policing or security-related jobs.
Add Hourihan’s name to the not-interested list.
Hourihan was promoted just last November as part of Elliott’s shuffle of top officers following widely publicized complaints of the commissioner’s “verbally abusive” management style.
Elliott announced in February he would step aside, but remains in the job until Prime Minister Stephen Harper names a replacement, likely in October.
Hourihan told the Star in an interview he will take up a new job “closer to home” and family in Alberta, but would say only that it is not a policing job.
“I live and breathe the RCMP,” the 35-year veteran said, adding that he decided to leave the force at a critical time for “totally personal” reasons for an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Although touted as a contender for the commissioner’s job, “I’m not sure I ever saw myself as that,” said Hourihan, who is not bilingual. Bilingualism is “desirable” but Hourihan doesn’t believe it should be a prerequisite.
What he does want to see is the next commissioner named from within RCMP ranks for the instant “credibility” the top cop would gain throughout the organization.
“It’s the ability to have that street credibility — that’s important to be able to muster the troops when you need to and to … build internal confidence.”
But that prospect is growing dim with the stream of recent departures from the senior ranks. A seven-person committee and a recruiting organization are searching for candidates.
White didn’t return a request for an interview. He told local media he’s fallen in love with the Ottawa chief’s job and the “fit” is right for him. He’s signed for three more years, with an option to renew for another two.
Lewis, 54, is a 33-year veteran of the OPP and has headed the 9,000-person force for almost a year. He succeeded Julian Fantino, who is now Conservative MP for Vaughan and the junior federal defence minister in charge of procurement.
According to a source, Lewis got the call last week and is reporting to be mulling it over, mainly because his $180,000-a-year salary — frozen by the province — is far less than many of his counterparts across the province, including Toronto Chief Bill Blair, who makes almost $150,000 more than Lewis.
“He’s the 12th-highest paid (police) chief in Ontario (among the larger communities) and he’s the head of the biggest police department in Ontario. Thunder Bay and Sudbury chiefs both make considerably more money a year. He made $80,000 less last year than Fantino made in ’09,” a source said Wednesday.
“He’s pretty discouraged and is really left with no alternative but to look around.”
Lewis doesn’t speak French, but according to the source, the emphasis is being put on “getting the best person” and the French lessons could come later.
“That wouldn’t be a deal breaker,” the source said.
Lewis has an extensive background in organized crime, tactical operations and aboriginal policing. He was seconded to the RCMP to lead the Cornwall Regional Task Force for two years in the 1990s.
Other contenders within the RCMP’s current ranks are believed to include Peter German, deputy commissioner for the western region; Bob Paulson, deputy commissioner for federal and international policing; assistant commissioner Bill Smith, commanding officer in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Norm Lipinski, a former Edmonton deputy chief who is now assistant commissioner in charge of the RCMP’s lower B.C. mainland region. Outside names that have surfaced are Garry Loeppky, a former deputy RCMP commissioner who retired but returned on contract during the Olympics, and Toronto’s Blair.