“When I got involved in the early 1990s, I saw a need for the RNC association to transform itself from more of a blue-collar labour union to more of a professional police association that had a stronger voice publicly,” Buckle said.
“Absolutely, I recognized the need to become somewhat of a lobby organization.”
Many RNC officers who served in the 1990s talk about chronic funding shortages, poor equipment, training and general neglect.
Buckle was heavily involved in the RNCA from the early 1990s until 2013, and he said he was one of the major voices pushing for the RNCA to make political donations.
He served as first vice-president of the police union before he became president of the union from 2004-08 and then again from 2010-13.
In 2001, the RNCA donated $1,250 to the Tories. The union representing police officers donated another $8,800 over the next four years, all to the PC party.
In recent years, the RNCA has started giving some money to the Liberals, too, although 74 per cent of its donations since 2001 have gone to the Tories.
Neither current RNCA president Mike Summers, nor RNC Chief Joe Boland, were available to speak to The Telegram for this story. Boland was involved with the RNCA in the years when the union started donating to political parties.
Last spring, both NDP and Tory politicians called on the government to strike an all-party committee to study the issue of democratic reform, as the Liberal party promised in the last election.
At the time, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said the committee on democratic reform would look at the issue of political donations, but it’s not clear whether the government will strike the committee this fall or wait until the spring of 2018 to get to work on the issue.
Buckle, who recently retired from the RNC, said he never liked giving money to political parties, but felt it was necessary.
“Philosophically, I don’t even agree with it. I don’t agree with corporations being able to make political donations, because if anyone thinks that a large corporation making a significant donation doesn’t have some effect somewhere along the line politically, I think they’ve just got their head in the sand,” Buckle said.
“Building personal relationships by appearing at political fundraisers and golf tournaments, it pays dividends, because all of a sudden, you’re on a first-name basis with people that are making political decisions about your organization, and funding for your organization.”
He said that because the police chief serves at the pleasure of the minister of Justice, he can’t really stand up and forcefully advocate for funding and policy changes.
Currently, he said, one of the big issues facing police is mental-health training and support for officers with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Unless you reach out to politicians and go to their golf tournament and fundraisers, and have conversations about that while you’re there, talking about these needs, it never gets done, because it’s not high on the priority list.”
Buckle personally attended fundraising events organized by politicians. He said there was never any kind of direct quid pro quo.
“Everybody involved, including the politicians, understood that while we were involved in their fundraising efforts, and participating, everybody knew that there was no benefit. No police officer was going to look the other way because a politician was driving impaired,” Buckle said.
“I know that perception is created, but that’s not the facts.”
Buckle said that ideally, he would be happier if nobody was allowed to donate to political parties, and nobody had to play the schmoozing game.
“Let’s have public hearings about it. Let’s have public consultation,” he said. “Let’s draw back the cloak of secrecy and do it in a public forum, as opposed to on a golf course or at a dinner.”