Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The outrageous MLA pay plan and class in B.C.

The MLA pay issue is a reminder that we still have a class system in British Columbia.
Not like England, or course, where your accent and school define your place in the world.
But your reaction to a recommendation that MLAs get a 30-per-cent raise and the premier a 50-per-cent raise - retroactive, no less - is not a bad class litmus test.
If you think the idea makes sense, you are likely in the comfortable class.
If you are amazed that some people who sought a job two years ago now figure it's reasonable to boost their base pay from $76,100 to $98,000 and the premier's pay from $121,100 to $186,000, then you're in the struggling class.
Not struggling to survive, in most cases. But nervous about being able to pay all the bills at the end of the month if something big goes wrong with the family car.
Those people are going to find it hard to imagine that the current base income of $76,100 isn't enough for a good life. (Especially since 75 per cent of MLAs get extra pay for heading up a committee, a cabinet post or other roles.)
Remember, the average full-time wage in B.C. is about $38,500. A typical MLA already makes twice that much. The raise would mean they would be paid more than 90 per cent of the people they represent.
But a lot of other people - the comfortable - can see how $76,100 isn't enough for all the sacrifices involved in a politician's life. That includes a fair portion of the journalists reporting on the issue, who are paid in the same range. If it's worth that much to have someone write about MLAs, surely they deserve a little more for actually doing the work.
The politicians thought so. In 2005, they secretly hatched a plan to sneak through a 15-per-cent raise. The public went wild, NDP Leader Carole James reneged on the deal and the plan was abandoned.
This time, Premier Gordon Campbell tried a different approach, appointing an independent panel to look at the whole issue of politicians' compensation.
Class is an issue here as well. There's nothing wrong with the panel, which included a senior lawyer who specializes in _helping employers with labour issues, a former B.C. _Supreme Court justice back in private practice and a University of British _Columbia business professor
But I'd be surprised if any of the three had income under $150,000. For them, $76,100 - even the $121,100 paid the premier - is going to look inadequate as they consider the cuts they would have to make to live on that income.
The premier would have been wise to include some typical British Columbians on the panel.
The pay is only a part of the boost in compensation the panel recommended. MLAs already have a pension plan, with taxpayers contributing about $6,900 year going into into their RRSPs. Not great, but not bad.
The panel proposes a generous plan that would cost taxpayers at least $35,000 per year for each MLA. Since most British Columbians don't have any pension plan, they will be cranky about paying taxes to fund a lavish MLA plan.
Politicians do deserve a raise, from my admitted perspective in the comfortable class.
Many of them take a pay cut to serve. Most sacrifice years when they could be laying the groundwork for their futures, choosing instead a job with no security. The hours are long and there's a lot of slogging. And, based on all I've seen, they're in it to make their communities better places for people to live.
But the proposed raises and pension increases are outrageous. Someone working at minimum wage - unchanged for six years, unlike MLAs' pay, which increases each year - makes $15,600 in a year.
The proposal would see MLAs paid as much for seven or eight weeks' on the job as a minimum wage worker earns in a year.
The NDP has already rejected the recommendations. It's hard to see the Liberals pressing ahead.
Footnote: The best course now would be for Campbell to scrap the report, except for a recommendation for a long-term disability plan for MLAs who become sick or injured on the job. (That's needed, but politicians will be asked why they aren't content with the provincial disability benefit - $11,000 a year - that they consider adequate for the rest of us.)
A new, representative panel could be set up and report next year, with any changes to take effect after the 2009 election.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I understand the compensation recommendations - if we want to attract people of talent to government (whether we get those people is arguable...), we have to offer a competitive remuneration. If not, we get what we pay for: people who aren't capable of finding more rewarding employment elsewhere, and dilettantes who don't need the money. Part of the problem is attributable to the optics of the process. Pay increases should be effective only for the incoming legislature, not the current one. Instead of pensions, why not a severance package and RRSP contributions? The other problem is simple envy of what other people can earn, and I don't see any good way around that other than to provide better information on what the salary recommendations are based on. The public needs to be convinced that the pay is warranted.

Anonymous said...

Paul. I expect next time you will come out flying against any other public sector wage proposal that brings our public sector servants up to national averages.

I bet you had lots of negative things to say every time the MLA pay comes up and while everyone cries foul, the gap builds to 30% over time.

They should all get a 50% increase for having to constantly put up with your bullshit.

Anonymous said...

"I understand the compensation recommendations - if we want to attract people of talent to government..."

This means ALL of the current MLAs are useless?
Makes sense to me!

Now we need to get these three wise wonders to examine welfare and minimum wage rates to see if they can consistantly get it right.

Anonymous said...

You want to use those same market-based standards to set minimum wage and welfare rates? I don't think you'll like the results. Minimum wage is already a distortion of supply and demand, as any economist could explain to you. As for welfare, exactly what work are we compensating recipients for?

Anonymous said...

"Most sacrifice years when they could be laying the groundwork for their futures, choosing instead a job with no security."

Please.
That's exactly why many individuals choose to run for office - as a stepping stone into a comfy job later. Kevin Falcons "consulting" fees will be a lot sweeter after he's finished turning the GVRD into a developers wet dream.
The idea that someone like Lorne "Twice Bankrupted" Mayencourt is somehow an MLA out of the "goodness of his heart" makes me laugh til I'm sick.
Politics is simply a dress rehearsal for board room laddies...

Anonymous said...

It appears to me that this grandiose wage increase and "cushy" pension proposal for MLA's has been well orchestrated by this gov't attempting to legitimize it's pompous arrogance. It is nothing short of obscene and again has one pondering just how far separated from the reality of the average citizen governments have become. When we thought the political ethical bottom could get no lower -we are yet again set straight!

Anonymous said...

Somehow most folks seem to have missed the fact that the MLa's do get a yearly increase. They also get something th average person can only dream about. The tax payers provide them with approx 7,000 a year as a RRSP which of course isn't taxed. If they show up intown on "Business'they get a extra per diem. But as mentioned elsewhere look what 70,000 a year gets us. My God Coleman was just on TV. will you take the raise? of course. The ex cop wants more. Lots of olks work as many hours as any MLA and a lot of the work is trying to keep their seat so coffee parties seem to be considered work. The whole thing makes a mockery of settling a pay raise. Go vote for one for yourself. Works every time. But don't vote for an increase in minimum wage.

Michale said...

Paul,

thank you for writing your thoughtful piece.

Imagine, in this day and age this single issue has highlighted the extreme disconnect that some of our elected representatives have with the electorate. The class system is alive and well right here in 2007.

I have written to the Premier and I have participated in a Ipsos Reid poll where I have stated my position against this obscene raise.

Anonymous said...

Now that the Liberals have gone ahead and voted themselves the 29% increase, they completely revealed themselves to be the true sleazeballs that they really are--particularly Mike DeJong and Gordon Campbell. Their behaviour last week was shameful and deplorable. They couldn't even stay in the legislature to face the music while Carole James delivered her scathing & well-deserved criticism of this government. Despite what the right-wing journalist hacks say in the Province & CTV, this is not insignificant incident. It actually does affect the way in which voters perceive this government and which way we'll vote next time. While I was actually thinking of voting for them Liberals in the next election, this issue has totally & absolutely killed my desire in that regard. As long as the NDP actually donates its pay raises to charity, I'm voting for them instead. I feel Carole James took the proper stand on the issue. When sleazy governments line like Gordon Campbell & Mike DeJong line their pockets with pay raises they simply don't deserve, yet punish the poor, I absolutely lose faith in them. It only reinforces my view that this is a government for the rich and by the rich. It's not for the people. It's funny how Canadians are always kicking their neighbours to the South, when not even politicians in the States could get away with awarding themselves 29% pay increases. Shame on you Gordon Campbell. You are the sleaziest politician in Canada. Just another re-incarnated Sleazy Son of Socred. May you rot in hell.

Anonymous said...

Nov 4 2010

Gordon Campbell retires and goes home to count the loot. we got no more money to steal. See ya GORDY.