Ottawa is threatening to start pulling the RCMP out of B.C. in 2014 if the province and cities don't sign a new 20-year policing contract by the end of November.
Solicitor General Shirley Bond characterized it as an "ultimatum" from the federal government in a briefing session with delegates at the Union of B.C. Muncipalities convention Tuesday.
The federal move ups the ante from last month, when Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender publicly warned B.C. cities were prepared to consider abandoning the Mounties and forming a provincial force rather than sign an unpalatable RCMP contract.
Some mayors at the UBCM briefing said it appears Ottawa has called B.C.'s bluff.
So far both Bond and Fassbender – who represents cities – say they want to keep the RCMP in B.C., but not at any cost.
"We are very concerned about the future of this negotiation," Bond said.
She said the notion of pursuing a "Plan B" – a provincial police force – is a "very expensive, very challenging" scenario to contemplate.
"I'd be enormously disappointed as a Canadian to see the end of the national police force in Canada."
Bond said the federal negotiators have walked away from the table and so far refuse to resume negotiations.
"We simply want our partners to come back to the table," she said.
B.C. found itself in a weakened bargaining position this summer after Alberta and Saskatchewan broke ranks and agreed to a new long-term RCMP contract that includes no reform of the cost-sharing formula or any movement on B.C. demands for measures to rein in the spiralling costs of policing.
Worse yet, the two other provinces secured a me-too clause that gives them any improved terms B.C. might negotiate and leaves B.C. unable to cut its own deal.
Fassbender cited inflated federal costs for everything from cadet training to the construction of the new RCMP E Division headquarters in Surrey, which he said has ballooned from an estimated $300 million to a price tag of $1.2 billion.
"It's an agency that's unaccountable," he said, questioning why the province and local cities should have to help foot the bill for a policing building at four times the price per square foot of renting existing space.
"It's not acceptable," Fassbender said. "To suggest that we're just going to sign a blank cheque isn't going to wash with any of us."
He called on B.C. mayors and councillors to lobby their local MPs and press the federal government to return to the bargaining table.
Bond said she's concerned Ottawa may want to terminate the entire contract policing model, which leaves B.C. out of step with provinces such as Ontario and Quebec that have their own provincial forces.
Large cities currently pay 90 per cent of RCMP costs, while smaller ones shoulder 70 per cent.
Civic reps want Ottawa to take on a larger share.
The current RCMP contract expires at the end of March.
There have been repeated calls over the years for Metro Vancouver to adopt a regional police force.
Advocates say it would be better equipped to bust gangs and other criminals who don't care about civic borders.
There are 11 RCMP detachments in the Lower Mainland, including Burnaby, Richmond, North Vancouver and Surrey.
Seven cities are policed by municipal forces.