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Analysis: RCMP bigshots missing the point

David Akin, Parliamentary Bureau Chief
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson arrives at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 31, 2012. (CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/QMI Agency Files)

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson arrives at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 31, 2012. (CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/QMI Agency Files)

OTTAWA - The hope, when Bob Paulson was appointed to be the commissioner of the RCMP, was that this would be a new era for the national police force, that he could do something about a decade or more of a dysfunctional culture at the RCMP.

In its most serious manifestations, this dysfunctional culture has resulted in a spate of sexual harassment complaints by many female RCMP members against male supervisors and colleagues. It manifested itself earlier this year, when, despite the express wishes in legislation passed by the Canadian Parliament, RCMP officers dragged their heels on dismantling the long gun registry until Public Safety Minister Vic Toews began issuing written orders in public and reading the riot act in private to the brass.

The everyday symptoms of the force's malaise include former RCMP commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli expensing $1,100 riding boots to the federal taxpayer.

And now, it appears that Paulson may not be the agent of change his political masters hoped he would be.

Earlier this summer, Paulson got married and when he came out of the church, he was greeted by a colour guard of 10 Mounties in full dress uniform. He was subsequently shocked to find that 8 of the 10 Mounties in the colour guard were not just big-hearted volunteers doing their boss a favour , as he - incredibly - directed a subordinate to find, but were, in fact, outside his church on the taxpayers' dime. Paulson, on holiday until next week, issued a statement apologizing for this error and promised to reimburse taxpayers $912 for renting those eight constables.

Now think about that figure for a second.

If you wanted to rent eight Mountie costumes for a day, Theatrix Costume House in Toronto will be happy to help you out for $1,130 - all taxes in.

But if you're the RCMP Commissioner you can rent those eight Mountie costumes with actual Mounties wearing them for just $912!

The RCMP argue that Paulson accounted for the cost of the RCMP octet differently than the way municipal police forces calculate their cost but that nonetheless Paulson is being charged on a "cost-recovery" basis.

I use the word "rent" because that's what clearly what it amounted to, "renting" the services of several officers for a few hours. Paulson's unit rental cost was $38 per constable per hour.

Now, a lot of police services rent out constables but none of their customers get the great deal Paulson did.

The Ottawa Police Service, for example, charge $83.17 (including tax) for each hour of a constable's service, more than twice what Paulson paid. In Winnipeg, a constable is $97.75. In Toronto, it's $84.46.

Moreover, at the Ottawa Police Service, like a lot of other municipalities, there is a minimum rental period of four hours.

So if Paulson had rented eight city of Ottawa police constables, he'd have paid more than $2,800 compared to the discounted RCMP octet he got for $912.

But here's one more thing: Even if money was no object, members of the public can not hire constables to stand around for pretty pictures at their wedding. Police departments only rent their officers for real police work like directing traffic and providing security.

But if you're a big wheel with the RCMP, you get this special service that no one else can have and you get it a special price that is way below market value. Moreover, this behaviour is described as "not unusual" by RCMP HQ.

This is the nub of the so-called culture problem with the RCMP - too many RCMP bigshots who don't think enough about their duty to the taxpayer, fidelity to their political masters or respect for their uniform.