Proposal for new police training facility in Beaumont broke lobbying rules

A proposed law enforcement and trucking industry training facility in Beaumont violated the government's own rules by having conservative-connected insiders lobby the government after the proposal had been submitted. This site could also potentially be used as a new training facility for a provincial police force. 

News that the proposed training facility project had moved to the next level of evaluations before it received government funding was released on a Friday afternoon just a week before the election was called. The project is an unsolicited proposal put forward by the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) in partnership with the City of Beaumont, RCMP and Edmonton Police Service. 

Lori Turnbull is director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie University and a former policy adviser in the Privy Council Office of Canada. She is unaware of any other province having an unsolicited proposal framework — a formalized way for private interests to put forward projects that are then funded by the government. 

"It's so vague, I'm trying to get a clear sense of what's happening and I'm not. Why is it necessary at all? Is the public even aware of this?" asked Turnbull. 

The AMTA has been lobbying for the project since March 2021. Benji Smith, the former press secretary for Alberta’s Ministry of Infrastructure, told The Progress Report the proposal was sent on April 27, 2022. 

According to the Alberta government’s Unsolicited Proposal Framework and Guideline, once a proposal is submitted project proponents can no longer engage in any form of political lobbying or influencing the outcome of the process after a proposal is submitted. “Failure to comply with this provision may result in rejection of the USP [unsolicited proposal],” reads the framework. 

Long-time conservative operative and lobbyist Hal Danchilla, who is a partner at the Canadian Strategy Group, is listed as the designated filer with the lobbyist registry, but according to sources and old lobbyist registry documents Cathy Chichak is the primary lobbyist working on this project.

Lobbying records show AMTA lobbyists continued to lobby the government “to bring awareness regarding a private-sector initiative for driver training infrastructure,” after they had submitted their proposal. According to the filing, lobbying can continue until the end of 2023. 

The lobbying activities include arranging meetings, grassroots communications, informal communications, presentations, telephone calls and written communications. The Transportation Ministry wasn’t alone in being lobbied. The ministries of Justice, Service Alberta, Treasury Board and Finance, Jobs, Economy and Northern Development,Transportation and Economic Corridors and Municipal Affairs were also targetted.

“If the project goes forward, it shows that the lobbying rules are soft [and] that the public won’t be able to trust that they will be enforced,” said Turnbull.

Former premier Jason Kenney mentioned the training facility in this video address to the AMTA annual general meeting in April 2021. He said it will be a $250 million capital project that will create 1,500 jobs. 

When contacted, the Office of the Ethics Commissioner said the “restrictions you are referring to are internal department policy and would normally be enforced by the department. The behaviour you have described is not something that is covered under either the Lobbyists Act or Conflicts of Interest Act.”

The AMTA  also opened up a new training facility in April 2019, for which they received $40 million dollars from the government of Alberta. The existing training facility sits on Edmonton International Airport land and has numerous classrooms designed specifically for driver education, a five-acre training track and two simulators. The AMTA did not answer questions about why they needed a new training facility after opening one in 2019. 

Former transportation minister Brian Mason cuts the ribbon at the opening of an AMTA training facility in 2019. 

Possible training facility for a provincial police force? 

After Danielle Smith won the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race in 2022 to replace Kenney as premier, she ordered then-public safety minister Mike Ellis to launch an Alberta Police Service in his mandate letter. Ellis was ordered “to work with the minister of justice, as the lead, and municipal affairs, to launch an Alberta Police Service (APS).”

A new police training facility would certainly be handy if you wanted to launch a provincial police force. While the exact details of this project are still vague, the next stage of the project will explore details for the space, such as whether it will contain scenario and tactical training space, firearms rangers and offices for admin staff.

Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Chief Dale McFee has worked very closely with the UCP government on their law-and-order agenda. He even attended a UCP fundraiser in 2020

Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld, Edmonton police chief Dale McPhee, Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis and Premier Danielle Smith at an April 4, 2023 announcement. Image via Government of Alberta

In the April 21 press release announcing the new training facility, McFee said he was “pleased to express his organization’s continued interest and commitment to work closely with all parties and potential partners in support of a modern and cost-effective training facility to meet the current and future training needs of law enforcement officers in the province of Alberta.”

The UCP didn’t campaign on getting rid of the RCMP during the last election, likely due to the national police force’s popularity in rural Alberta. 

Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki also provided a quote for the news release, which appears to undermine suspicions the facility is intended for an Alberta police force. 

But Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who scabbed during the newspaper’s 1999-2000 strike, has called the replacement of the RCMP with a provincial police force “inevitable.” Braid noted that, regardless of their popularity, the Mounties are likely leaving when their contract to police rural Alberta ends in 2032. 

Neither Beaumont Mayor Bill Daneluik, the Alberta Motor Transport Association, nor the Canadian Strategy Group responded to questions from The Progress Report

While this project is still in its early stages and, as a result, is incredibly vague with no firm promises of either government funding, or even what kind of training would be provided, it’s worth paying attention to. The project has already violated rules around lobbying and the government is angling for a provincial police force, for which a new training facility would no doubt be useful. And another thing worth keeping in mind is that the massive "Cop City" proposal in Atlanta, Georgia, is a police training facility that has drawn considerable community backlash

But ultimately such a vague process means that governance expert Lori Turnbull is left asking questions. “It’s possible the government is having conversations with stakeholders and government friendly lobbyists, letting them know what they want so that it comes from an external party,” said Turnbull. 

“The government could be having these conversations already. It could be a rubber stamp and it’s a way for a government to direct projects to their friends.”