Sunday, February 04, 2007

If politicians get income review, why not people on welfare

The latest effort to come up with raises for B.C. politicians is a big step forward over the last debacle, but still falls short of an ideal process.
And it raises some good questions about why MLAs and cabinet ministers think its important that their pay be regularly reviewed, but somehow don't believe a disabled person who relies on government assistance deserves the same consideration. Of course anything would be better than the last sneaky attempt - backed by both parties - that would have given MLAs a 15-per-cent pay raise and total compensation increases worth up to 50 per cent. In case you've forgotten - and the politicians are sure hoping you have - that was in 2005, after the election. They planned the raises behind closed doors and then, using a special rule, rushed them through the legislature in one hour. Such debates usually require three days, so the public has a chance to go, what a minute, what's going on here.
In this case, the public went crazy anyway. NDP leader Carole James reneged on the secret deal and the raise issue went away. This time Premier Gordon Campbell is taking a more responsible approach. A three-person panel has 90 days to review compensation and pension plans and make recommendations.
No real argument there. MLAs earn a base pay of $76,100, with extra money for heading committees or being cabinet or caucus appointments. Cabinet ministers get $115,100; the premier $121,100. There's a living allowance when they're in Victoria and a contribution to an RRSP in lieu of a pension plan. The RRSP contribution is nine per cent of base pay, or about $6,850.
It's not huge money. The work can be hard, MLAs are away from home, they're sacrificing peak years for advancing their own careers and they can be turfed every four years. For many, they're giving up serious money by seeking election.
But it's also not shabby. The base pay is still twice the average wage in B.C. It's about 4.5 times the income of someone working for minimum wage. And it's more than four times the income the government considers necessary for a disabled person, unable to work, and trying to raise a young child.
The panel is a qualified group, chaired by a senior lawyer who specializes in helping employers with labour issues. The other two members are a former B.C. Supreme Court justice back in private practice and a University of British Columbia business professor.
Great expertise. But also a skewed perspective. All three earn more than the premier today; the two lawyers likely take in twice as much. All three would be paid more than 95 per cent of British Columbians.
Given human nature, their views on a reasonable wage will be affected by the fact that they consider their own compensation quite fair.
The panel plans to give the public a chance to make submissions.
But it would have been wiser to include members with a different perspective - someone earning an average wage, living in Trail or Prince George. After all, we elect those kinds of people as MLAs and expect them to make other important decisions.
The whole exercise raises some other pretty good questions.
The government's news release said that MLAs and cabinet ministers hadn't received any "significant increases" since a 1997 review. But their pay is indexed, in a modest way, and recent increases have averaged about 1.1 per cent a year.
Not much. But more than people on minimum wage or most welfare recipients have seen during the same period.
If it's important to examine the compensation for politicians, to keep it current and make sure it's reasonable, what about others, like people on welfare?
Certainly the government looks at those issues.  But it's managing a tangle of interests, some of them conflicting.
Why not give the panel another 60 days and ask for recommendations on those rates as well? If it 's important to get compensation right for 79 MLAs, surely it's just as important to take an independent look at the money being provided to some 70,000 disabled British Columbians dependent on income assistance.


Anonymous said...

I spent 35 years working for the Queen and draw a moderate pension that is indexed. Extended Medical and dental, we pay for. Provincial plan we pay for.
Now I hear the MLAs want a pension, along with some raise, even though they can invest in RRSP's as they go along.We couldn't when working buy RRSPs.

Most don't last long enough to get in many years so it looks like get into the second term and you are set. It should be a condition of running that the pay each time you run is set prior to the shutting down of the place. Nobody would be surprised at the scale after election. a sum of money for each day in Victoria doing anything like work sure boosts the cheque as well. The standard excuse is the good people won't run with out a big salary.

The idea that the poor enter the conversation is way below the radar.Nobody does much f anything about the folks huddled in the doorways at night and in food lines during the day, or selling themslves at night.
The most important bodies are the elected ones. Who was the Frence Queen who said "Let the poor eat cake"

Almost forgot, my pension before indexing was well under 1,000 a month. and now with all the cut backs in services and increased costs to buy those benefits it doesn't go that far. You as usual are right on the mark Paul

Michael said...

oh I'd say this idea was just a little short - bind increases in pay to the welfare rate and minimum wage - I garauntee there woul;d be very few pay raises indeed...

Anonymous said...

Good post. I have a friend who has to collect disability. She is supposed to survive on $1100 per month. And do you think all her medical needs are covered? No way. She has to find ways to pay for a lot of those herself as well... medications, treatments, etc. At every turn the bureaucrats try and find ways to eliminate her from their payroll.

Once, they said "you can't have this treatment covered, you have a chronic condition... we'll only pay if your condition is 'accute'". She spoke to her doctor who thought that was silly and wrote a letter that said she is having an "accute flare-up and needed the treatment".

They then paid for the treatment (once) and then told her that since her condition was now 'accute' that they would not be paying her any more disability. She had to fight with them and again see her doctor for a letter (remember, the doctor charges her... they won't pay for his letters either) saying she has a chronic illness.

$1100 for rent, food and many non-covered medical expenses.... she has to deal with a debilitating disease... and she has to deal with bureaucrats that make her want to commit suicide after having to deal with them. Nice system. Give Gordo a raise.