Door closes to re-opening Saugeen Shores policing for South Bruce Peninsula

In a letter earlier this year to Saugeen Shores Council, Mayor Janice Jackson of South Bruce Peninsula said that her community had decided to remain with the Ontario Provincial Police service (OPP). The decision followed a request for a proposal for police servicing by Saugeen Shores Police.  In the letter, she stated that, “Once (they) compared current OPP policing costs to the Saugeen Shores proposal, it was determined that there was not enough of a savings to justify changing service providers.”

However, at the August 10th meeting of Saugeen Shores Council, it would appear that Mayor Jackson and her Council have changed their tune.  In a letter dated July 9, 2020, she says that, “On behalf of Council, I would like to take this opportunity to request that Saugeen Shores considers re-opening the conversation with South Bruce Peninsula regarding the provision of police services.”

According to the most recent letter, the Town of South Bruce is now not satisfied with the OPP due to its “… experiencing a severe lack of resources which at times makes it difficult for them to provide the level of service which is required by our community.”

The Town of South Bruce covers a broad geographical area and is made up many villages and larger communities following amalgamation, such as:

  • Albemarle Ward: Adamsville, Colpoy’s Bay, Hope Bay, Howdenvale, Mar, Purple Valley, Red Bay; McIver
  • Amabel Ward: Allenford, Clavering, Elsinore, Hepworth, Oliphant, Park Head, Sauble BeachWiartonFrench BaySauble Beach SouthSauble FallsSkipnessTolmie

The administrative centre of the region is in Wiarton.

Jackson does not state in her letter whether or not part of the area would remain with the OPP or if Saugeen Shores would be considered to be the primary Police Service for the region.

Councilor Dave Myette, who is also Chair of Saugeen Shore Police Services Board, said that this request should be referred back to the Board with a recommendation to come back to Council.

Vice Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt however strongly disagreed.  “I am not supporting this as this is not the time to consider taking over another beach-front community. It’s important for our residents to know that Sauble Beach attracted over 150,000 visitors to the beach in 2019 and also many more to the Sand Fest that took this past weekend (Aug.9th) during COVID-19.  We have very little say over South Bruce Peninsula events that may require police attendance.  I spoke to officers last weekend at our own local beaches and asked how many officers were there during this time of COVID-19 – the answer was one at the local hospital and two in the community. So, there were three constables and one by-law enforcement for the weekend shift.  Our officers are doing a great job considering there are some 5,000 and more beach-goers on a weekend.  Sauble attracts some 150,000 visitors over a busy long weekend so why add that into the mix?  I am not certain why South Bruce Council changed its mind again, when they turned down our offer some four months ago. I can only surmise that OPP coverage on the beaches has not been up to standard during COVID-19 and I am not convinced it is our responsibility to fix their policing problems.  I am concerned that we would spread our policing service too thin during COVID-19 and that may stretch into 2021 or beyond.”

In the letter of July 9th by Mayor Jackson, Myatt referred to her comment of cut-backs to OPP resources.  He said that, “Our police chief at last year’s budget meeting indicated that our policing model is also lacking resources and, in fact, he stated that Saugeen Shores will require one additional police officer per year for the next five years to bring us up to the provincial standard for sworn officers per population. The Chief said that calls for service have increased from 7,304 in 2017 to a projected 10,350 in 2019 for a 43 per cent increase, that has created a strain on overall operations.  Why would we want to assume policing responsibilities for South Bruce Peninsula that doesn’t currently have enough policing resources?  We have our own issues and I see very few reasons why we should have to fix South Bruce Peninsula’s policing problems.”

Myatt went on to point out that Saugeen Shores has just recently opened a new $6million plus police building.  “We did not build that with the help of South Bruce Peninsula’s taxpayers.  We built it to accommodate our own policing needs for the next 25 years and more, and our taxpayers are paying for this building. In 2016, the Police customer satisfaction survey said that residents are very satisfied with Saugeen Shores Police services and not one single resident expressed satisfaction for expanding our service to other municipalities.  We have one of the best police services in all of Ontario. Do our residents want our Chief and Deputy Chief spending up to 20 per cent of their time dealing with South Bruce Peninsula issues?  Why would we want to assume the responsibility for more territory?  What is broken with the current police system?  Our residents have repeatedly said they are happy with our police service rather than a more regional approach.  In fact, our previous Council refused to even consider going to OPP policing in favour of a local police force.”

Councilor Dave Myette intervened with a point of order saying that the matter was only to have the issue referred to the Police Services Board to consider and bring a recommendation back to Council, during which time there would be ample opportunity for Councilors to do research and formulate an open opinion.

“It’s my opinion that we should not open these negotiations,” insisted the Vice-Deputy Mayor.  “I am not in favour of sending this back to the Police Services Board and Council can always place this on the 2022 municipal voting ballot and let the residents decide and let their voices stand.”

He sent on to say that during this time of COVID-19, it is not the time to take on another municipality’s policing problems. “I have a motion to ‘note and file’ and will not support sending this back to the Police Services Board.  They (South Bruce) received our proposal and turned it down and I feel like we are a bit of a pawn here … back and forth, back and forth.  Mayor Jackson had her opportunity to speak to this and they turned it down and I see no reason why this should be going back to our Police Board – it is a waste of time.  I hope Council turns this down.”

Councilor John Rich said that four months ago, he supported sending the pricing proposal to South Bruce and, based on information by Chief Mike Bellai who was in support of the plan, he said that, “I am still in support of the proposal.   Just because somebody (Jackson) turns something down and wants to have another look at it doesn’t mean that we should be spiteful.  They are our neighbours and are saying they are not getting the policing they need and are asking us to help them out.  I am supportive … but if sent back to our Board, I would like to see a longer duration for a contract where we are locked in for a longer period of time.  I supported this four months ago and support it again. We should see what the experts and our Chief says and there will be a great opportunity to get a costing from the OPP.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau pointed out that the recommendation is to send it back to the Police Services Board.  “No one knows what that recommendation will be, but the recommendation is whether or not Council even wants to send it back to the Police Services Board.”

Council Kristan Shreider added that the Board should provide comment and that it should go back to the Board.  “This was something that the Board brought forward and this is just information collecting at this time.  If they don’t provide comment then I think we are not doing our due diligence.”

Deputy Mayor Don Matheson said that the issue wasn’t a yes or no to South Bruce Peninsula.  “It is a motion to send it back to the Police Board whose job is to come back with a resolution to Council to decide.”

Councilor Myette (Chair of Police Services Board) agreed with many points raised by Vice-Deputy Mayor Myatt.  “A lot has changed in the world in four months.  Perhaps, if our offer had been accepted, there would have been unforeseen incidents that we could not have seen due to the pandemic.  Therefore, it is probably fortunate that they didn’t accept our proposal at that time and the motion that I put forward is that, we as a Board, can analyze the current situation with respect to the old situation where we made an offer – and it’s no guarantee that we will go forward with this.  It will give the rest of council the time to delve into the research and I look forward to a lively debate when it comes back to Council.”

Mayor Charbonneau agreed that an offer had been made originally and that, for whatever reason the offer had not moved forward.  “We have a lot going on as a municipality and I am not particularly interested in burning horsepower on this debate both for the Board and this Council.  I was content with our last offer and think there are still opportunities for expansion of the police service.  There could be a lot of benefit to the town of Saugeen Shores but, at this point, I am not interested in continuing negotiations or discussions on this.  We put in a good offer, put our best foot forward and it didn’t work so, now, we move on … and I will not support this.”

The motion was narrowly defeated in a 5-4 vote.