Editorial (Edmonton Journal) – Back in 2007, the appointment of William Elliott as RCMP commissioner seemed to be the right move by Stephen Harper. Wracked by scandal, horrendous optics and internal turmoil, the battered national police service desperately needed fresh leadership at the top.
Notwithstanding this week’s foolish contention by the normally sensible Liberal MP Scott Brison that naming any civilian to the post was “a recipe for disaster,” Elliott appeared to be a logical enough choice. The career top-level civil servant appeared to come with a sterling resume and was certainly completely uncompromised by internal Mountie machinations.
Three years on, the state of the institution is even worse, dragged further down by a series of high-profile disasters well known to all Canadians.
This week, the latest boot to drop involves what amounts to a full-scale revolt by senior managers. They’ve travelled all the way to the prime minister’s office demanding Elliott’s head, claiming he is a serial verbal abuser, the classic boss from hell. Now leaked, the complaints talk of the commissioner throwing papers at a subordinate and being forced to take a $40,000 American executive coaching course — read: anger management.
The minister responsible, Vic Toews — a very tough and decisive hombre when he chooses to be — has instead downloaded the matter to an independent adviser charged to provide a confidential “workplace assessment” examining the complaints.
This is shaping up to be classic deja vu all over again. In 2007, independent adviser David Brown concluded that the man at the top of the force not only displayed an autocratic style, but wielded “absolute power,” “with little regard or respect for those with whom he was dealing.” That commissioner wasn’t Elliott, but Giuliano Zaccardelli, the previous boss, who left his job under murky circumstances. Were the accusers the same?
Of course, it could be that Elliott is indeed a hothead unsuitable for a very tough assignment, although he doesn’t seem to have a history of that behaviour. At any rate, some sympathy might be extended his way given the force’s continuing gaffes, some of which could have prompted a Zen master to lose his cool. From the beginning, Elliott was seen to be a transitional leader, an outside change agent capable of sparking the transformation of the RCMP’s broken culture. Although he has said that is well on the way — with some justification in the areas of stopping self-policing and tightened stun gun use — it’s clear enough that there is much work to be done. Morale certainly isn’t exactly through the roof.
It seems obvious now that sweeping personnel changes are required, both in the commissioner’s office and in the top ranks of the force, where many senior leaders are nearing retirement age. A civilian oversight body, as Brown recommended, might help. It won’t be easy, but if the Harper government is really serious about law and order it should begin the painful but pressing process of ushering in a new generation of RCMP leadership with dispatch.