Beware the Blob: The Edmonton Police budget is coming for you and everything you care about

If you live in Edmonton you are going to see a higher than expected increase to your property taxes. If you’re one of 4,500 inside city workers in Edmonton you haven’t seen a pay increase in five years and are still without a contract.

That’s because the Edmonton Police Service budget is a giant blob consuming everything in its path. 

Though unlike the cheesy 1950s science fiction movie, the EPS budget didn’t arrive from a meteorite. Rather, it’s the product of a cowardly city council unwilling to do anything but say, “how much?” when Chief Dale McFee comes calling for money. 

If you think defunding the police is a bridge too far, let's look at what happens when we give the police a blank cheque – taxes go up while the homelessness, drug poisoning and crime crises get worse. Police don’t prevent crime in any meaningful way and the EPS only solve about 50 per cent of violent crimes and 40 per cent of non-violent crime

Council spent weeks in December 2022 debating and passing a budget that had regularly planned property tax increases – everyone’s taxes were set to go up 4.96 per cent this year. Since then, city council passed a police funding formula that guarantees police budget increases and every cop got about a $10,000 backpay cheque due to an arbitrated agreement between the city and the Edmonton Police Association. Never mind that Chief Dale McFee and the Edmonton Police Commission lobbied very hard to not have labour settlements included in the police funding formula.

It’s early November and now we are getting our very first update on how the City of Edmonton’s budget is shaping up. There’s a $73.8-million deficit and taxes are now going up 7.09 per cent. That’s an unplanned tax increase of 2.13 per cent with more than three quarters of that extra tax increase coming from the police funding formula and the EPA settlement. 

Here’s where you might think that maybe the law-and-order United Conservative Party will come to the rescue. After all, they promised to hire 50 more cops in Edmonton as part of their election campaign. But the money from the province showed up to pay for 50 new cops to patrol transit spaces and it’s a paltry one-time grant of $9 million. That’s a one-time payment of $180,000 per new cop. 

But let’s say those cops work another 15 years. The cost to pay their salaries will be borne by the city and will cost all of us a cool $135 million, and that’s a conservative estimate. 

It’s not like anything is different with how these cops were hired. The EPS are just doing their routine recruitment and training of new cops. The only difference this time is that the UCP just wrote a $9-million cheque. Using this logic the UCP could write a $180-million cheque and say they hired 1,000 police officers. 

Not all of the 50 cops have even been hired yet. According to a City of Edmonton press release, 21 officers have been assigned to Transit Community Safety Teams with another 29 expected by late 2024. 

Which brings us to the workers of CSU 52 — the people who make the city run. Their collective bargaining negotiations have been stuck in mud with their 2020-2023 contract still unsettled. The city’s offer that’s been on the table for the past year is a meagre three per cent pay increase over three years. The EPA got more than double that with a 7 per cent increase. 

The inside city workers also took zeroes in 2018 and 2019, which means their pay has been severely eroded by inflation over the past five years. CSU 52 held an informal strike survey, which saw 86 per cent of library workers responding in favour of potential job action and 70 per cent of all city workers in that same survey also saying they were in favour of a strike. Perhaps more importantly CSU 52 is also training strike captains

If mediation breaks down, a likely prospect since the city hasn’t budged in two years, then CSU 52 has a two-week cooling off period after which they could go on strike for the first time in its history as CSU 52. City of Edmonton inside workers did go on strike in 1976 for 10 days but that was when the union was affiliated to CUPE. 

An irony in all this is that about 900 of CSU 52’s members are civilian workers for the EPS with jobs like 911 operator, police armorer and IT manager. While the city has tried to get them classified as essential workers, the union has to agree and they haven’t. 

There are about 1,900 cops in Edmonton supported by these 900 civilian workers. Do you think they could do their job without their support staff? Workers' ability to withhold their labour always gives them more leverage than you think; they should use it.  


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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that the union representing inside city workers had never been on strike, that was incorrect as an earlier iteration of CSU 52, one that was affiliated to CUPE went on strike in the 1970s.