Friday, June 10, 2005

Liberals trip over 10-per-cent MLA raise

VICTORIA – It’s probably not a good sign when a new government stumbles in its first day on the job.
The Liberal caucus, old hands and first-time MLAs, headed to the legislature for their first caucus meeting last week. They took the oath of office in the impressive red-carpeted chamber, posing for pictures and leaving with their official MLA lapel pins, an especially handy identifier until security guards learn to recognize their faces.
During a break, the media-shy Gordon Campbell held a press conference in his office. Asked about raises for MLAs by an alert Canadian Press reporter, he allowed that the things have changed.
Liberal MLAs took a five-per-cent pay cut in their base pay in 2002, a gesture that saved government about $300,000 a year. MLAs’ pay increases each year based on the consumer price index and average weekly wages. The Liberals turned those down as well.
But it’s a new legislature, Campbell said, and time to end the restraint.
Just don’t call it a pay increase. "They didn't get a pay raise," Campbell insisted. "It's a signal that this is a new legislature. They took a cut for four years."
Some reporters left the premier’s office thinking Liberal MLAs had got a five-per-cent raise.
But no. Reverse the five-per-cent rollback, and add in the annual increase the Liberals had forsaken, and the real increase is 10.1 per cent. Liberal MLAs were paid a base of $68,500. Now they’ll get an extra $135 a week – before taxes – or $75,400 a year.
And while Campbell might not consider that a raise, most of us would think a bigger cheque every two weeks equals a pay increase.
The catch-up had to come. New Democrats Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan didn’t join in the Liberals’ gesture. The prospect that the 33 New Democrat MLAs would be paid 10.1 per cent more than their Liberal counterparts is bizarre.
But it seemed a bumbling, catch us if you can way to get the information out. Why not a proper, informative release with the new pay rate, supported by the argument that the government can now afford to pay MLAs a bit more?
There are consequences to that position. Government workers who have accepted a wage freeze – or seen contracting out and wage cuts - would wonder if they too were due for big catch-up raises.
As the MLAs filed into the red-carpeted chamber, I wasn’t thinking about their rate of pay, and I’m sure they weren’t either.
It’s a big deal to be elected as the representative from your region. A big honor, a big responsibility and a big day.
And generally, the job represents a big sacrifice. MLAs – especially in smaller communities – are constantly on call. They are away from home for about one-quarter of the year. They abandon their career. The have zero job security, and a mediocre pension. And many take a big pay cut to serve.
Whatever the party, or the quirks of the individual, we owe them. And of all the shots at provincial politicians, the most unfair and ridiculous is the claim they are in it for the money. Some would make three times as much in another job; all of them are making large trade-offs. The pay is not bad, but I’m not sure it is enough for what we expect from these people.
I suppose a few MLAs were wondering that as well when they learned that Jeff Bray, the former Liberal MLA defeated by NDP leader Carole James, would be paid more than $90,000 in his new job as executive director of the Liberal caucus. It’s a rare job market where defeat means a 35-per-cent pay jump.
The Liberals did a poor job of presenting the MLAs’ pay raise.
But don’t let that affect your attitude towards your own representative. These people – NDP and Liberal – have taken on a tough job, and deserve full credit.
Footnote: Campbell got lots of cheering and applause when he strode in to the caucus meeting. But the 46 MLAs this time couldn’t make quite as much noise as the 77 elected in 2001. And not all the defeated Liberals share the enthusiasm for the Liberal campaign effort.


Anonymous said...

This doesn't address the BC Libs Ministerial pay policies during their Reign of Error.

How much y'all wanna bet that the Health Minister received her bonus bucks for coming-up 5,000 care beds short?

Or how about WLAP's Barisoff - raked over the coals by a Judge for breaking the law in The Great Turtle Travesty and then Barisoff fired the whistleblower - bet he got his bonus bucks too.

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Anonymous said...

How can they....after 0, 0, + 0 for everyone else!