Welcome back, Prairie Bylaw Enforcement.
City council voted April 23 to spend $236,500, plus GST, to bring Prairie Bylaw Enforcement Services (PBLE) back to town almost two years after they left at loggerheads with council in 2010.
Prairie Bylaw Enforcement decided in May 2010 to pull out of Thompson after almost three years when council chopped their annual contract amount by a third from $456,250 to $306,250. Prairie Bylaw Enforcement owner Dave Prud'homme declined to accept the $150,000 budget cut in return for reduced level of service, so the city asked him to end the contract almost seven months early, and he agreed.
That was then and this is now, so Prairie Bylaw Enforcement will be here for a six-month period, likely starting in May and running through October.
“I remember the last time they were here, and this proved pretty fruitless, so I don’t know why we’re spending money on this again,” said Coun. Luke Robinson, who was one of two councillors to vote against the resolution: “All that was done was they moved people around; if people saw them coming they would just move to different areas.”
Coun. Judy Kolada stood on the side of Robinson against the decision to bring back PBLE.
“We have people who are unemployed and we’re asking Prairie Bylaw to come and employ them, and I’m asking why can’t the city employ them and put them on our payroll and save all those administration costs,” said Kolada, “I think certainly that we need the service, but I don’t think this is the most cost effective way.”
The city’s public safety committee exhausted all options in terms of bringing in a downtown enforcement strategy, according to Mayor Tim Johnston, and that the PBLE as a six-month contract is just a temporary solution for the time being until something more permanent can be implemented either through provincial funding or with the RCMP.
Questions were raised with regards to the power held by PBLE, which Deputy Mayor Dennis Fenske answered with regards to their status in the city.
“The RCMP is still our police force of choice, and that doesn’t change,” said Fenske, “the City of Winnipeg has a cadet service in place for downtown enforcement, and they have peace officer status. Here in Thompson the only people with that status are the RCMP, the province will not grant peace officer status to the PBLE.”
Robinson brought forth the question of bringing in additional RCMP officers to be made a presence in the downtown area.
“You can’t ticket someone who doesn’t have ID, and you can’t demand identification without peace officer status,” said Robinson, “it’s the same thing with open liquor, and only the RCMP can demand that you pour it out. That’s why I think we should be looking to the RCMP and saying we already have two officers for downtown enforcement, why can’t we have two more.”
The city has, however already put in requests for additional services through the budgetary process, and it is a waiting game at the moment.
“The province committed to provide us with two additional officers for 27 month,” said Fenske, “they’re still not here and we understand they’re in the queue, and it’s taken them six months to get in to the queue. If you think we can just cut a cheque and have two RCMP officers here tomorrow you’re sadly mistaken. PBLE is a temporary solution until we can have something more permanent in place.”
The province and Thompson have been unable to come to a negotiation in regards to solutions on the issue of downtown enforcement. Mayor Johnston says he made the mistake of thinking something would have been developed between the provincial and municipal governments.
“We just have not been able to reach a solution, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in that,” said Johnston, “the City of Thompson went to the table with resources and in good faith and for whatever reason our request has just not been answered and to a large degree it has been ignored.”
Recently, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger had promised that a cadet program would be introduced not only in Winnipeg, but also all over the province, a promise that has yet to be fulfilled, in Thompson at least.
The downtown is a frontline issue this year, says Johnston, and that PBLE is a first step in creating a sense of safety and community being for the city.
“In previous years we’ve said the downtown has been an issue and it’s been kind of pushed aside,” said Johnston, “this year we’re going to have to stay on it. This affects our retention and improvement of people in our community. Unfortunately, we’re not judged on so many good things that happen, but on the bad things in a one or two block area downtown.”