An info session from the Justice and Solicitor General's office about a potential provincial police force left Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn with more questions than answers.
In late January, provincial representatives held the session in Okotoks, which was one of several planned to be held across the province.
Those are running concurrently with the "Keep Alberta RCMP" tour from the National Police Federation, though, unlike the NPF events, these are not being made available to the public or media.
Other municipal representatives also attended, with representation from the towns of Okotoks, Black Diamond, Turner Valley, and Cochrane, as well as Vulcan and Foothills County.
According to Thorn, the info session was largely focused on the transition study report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLC.
The report was initially released in October of 2021, and Thorn had already familiarized herself with it, though she noted that many others hadn't, understandably.
With that being the case, the Okotoks mayor didn't feel there was any new information conveyed at the session, even going as far as to say she came out of it with more questions than before.
"There's a lot of baseline information that they do not have that would allow me and council in Okotoks to be in a position to solidly provide feedback on the pros, the cons, or the directions we should go with the proposed provincial police force. Right now there's a bunch of gaps in terms of how it would work, what would be entailed, and so it's really hard to provide feedback when you don't have those base understandings."
She feels the province has touted numerous benefits to a provincial police force but has also left many gaps in the middle.
The session also left her wondering exactly what problem the province is looking to solve in considering a provincial police force.
"Some of the rhetoric I've heard is that a provincial police force would solve response times in our rural communities, but based on what's in the report I'm like 'well how does it do that?' Nobody can tell me how it does that because you're planning to keep the same number of officers and the same number of detachments. If you live 45 minutes from a detachment, your response time is still 45 minutes, that doesn't get improved."
Despite her familiarity with the report prior to the event, she feels her fellow municipal figures were more or less on the same page as her by the end.
"I think, principally, we're all trying to understand what is the impact to our municipalities and to our taxpayers of this move? I think there's still a lot of questions that we don't have answers to, so I think, overall, that would be the consensus of our regional municipalities."
Thorn has sat with these concerns for a while now, and this event didn't seem like a venue designed for representatives on the municipal side to voice them.
"I didn't feel that this was really structured or designed as a session to solicit solid feedback over what options would be best. It was really more, from my perspective anyway, a session to provide details on 'here's what's in the report, let's itemize these and then we can have a brief discussion on the topic.' It really wasn't to flesh out and have a solid understanding of potential options."
As far as future events and opportunities for feedback, Thorn believes a public survey is being planned, and there is an opportunity for municipalities to submit feedback, though she's not sure yet if the Town of Okotoks will be doing that or if that'll happen via Alberta Municipalities.
She'd also like to see a 'what we heard' report from these sessions and something akin to an FAQ to answer unanswered questions from the sessions.