Monday, November 21, 2005

Pay and pension plans die, and the public wins

VICTORIA - The great raise and pension debacle should shake your faith in all 79 MLAs.
The plan to sneak through a 15-per-cent raise - and a pension plan that could take the total compensation increase closer to 50 per cent - was sneaky and self-serving.
Every MLA signed on to the scam last Thursday. Both the Liberals and the NDP knew the public would be furious. But they figured if they stuck together, that wouldn't much matter. What could voters do?
The deal was explicit, and clear, and NDP leader Carole James and Gordon Campbell both agreed. So did every MLA.
And they agreed that they would lift the rules of the legislature, which usually require bills to be passed over several days to allow public comment. That kind of heat could make some MLAs waver, so it took less than two hours to pass the whole thing.
There was no warning to the public that the changes were coming, no studies or consultation. The Legislative Assembly Management Committee - four Liberals, two New Democrats - worked in secret to get the deal together. No one broke the silence.
Then the public went berserk, and James got cold feet. The Liberals pulled the plug on the whole thing.
They're angry, and so are some of the NDP backbenchers. It's disturbing that somehow James couldn't see the reaction coming. And there is no doubt she broke her word.
But she's also right. The process was an abuse of the public trust, especially because of the secrecy.
The initial reports all talked about a 15-per-cent pay raise.
But the real increase, including the value of the new pension plan, is at least twice that amount, and in some cases will be up to 50 per cent.
When the pay raise was rushed through the legislature last week politicians offered a brief summary of the impact. The raises, and increased support for constituency offices, would cost taxpayers about $4 million a year, the summary said.
But it offered no cost for the pension plan.
That was a significant omission. Liberal MLA Randy Hawes, a member of the committee that developed the pension plan in secret, revealed the tab will likely be $3 million to $4 million a year.
Pension calculations are tricky. For example ex-MLAs become eligible for the pensions at 55. If they quit at 35, then their contributions pile up interest for 20 years to help cover the cost of the pension. If they quit at 55, then the taxpayer is on the hook for much more of their pension cost. The plan would also allow former MLAs to buy in.
But the bottom line is that most MLAs who served two terms would have ended up with a pensions worth about $1 million. They would have contributed about $60,000. The rest of the money would have come from taxpayers.
The existing RRSP plan costs taxpayers about $500,000 a year. The new plan would cost up to eight times that much.
It's all dead now, say the Liberals, mostly because they're mad at James. Even elements of the deal which would likely enjoy public support - like increased support for constituency offices - won't be brought back. "This matter, as far as the government is concerned, is a dead issue," said Liberal House leader Mike de Jong.
Don't be so sure that will last. Liberal Lorne Mayencourt was the only MLA to vote against abandoning the raises and pension plan, offering a passionate - but mathematically challenged - defence,
Other MLAs on both sides of the House share his views.
And MLAs likely deserve a pay increase, and a sensible pension plan.
But this effort was an abuse of the public.
Perhaps when the issues do come back, politicians will recognize the importance of openness and appoint an independent commission to tackle the tough questions, and come up with sensible, affordable proposals.
Footnote: Campbell had to tread carefully. He was a consistent opponent of MLA pension plans in opposition. And in 1997 he agreed to improve pension benefits for some MLAs, backing a deal negotiated by then Liberal House leader Gary Collins. Campbell, like James, reneged, leaving Collins to dangle in the wind. Just as James left Mike Farnworth.


RossK said...

Hate to be the cynic here Paul but there's is one thing that was achieved by this aborted fiasco......

See the number 713 above the fold anywhere these days?

Anonymous said...

...and I wonder how much impact it had on turnout for the municipal elections. The dim view that most British Columbians took of our politicians from both the left and right certainly would not have done much to propel people to the polls on Saturday

Anonymous said...

The CBC announced this evening on TV that the deal was closer to 8 millions of dollars. How many hip, knee, cancer procedures could be covered. The deal was set in less than 2 hours, out in about two minutes. Legislation on the fly.
And a few reputations blown at the same time. Who will trust folks who cook deals in the back room? Not me for sure. I suggest never stand close to a BC MLA of either party, if you have anything of value in your pocket because they will want it. Sad state of affairs as we were told the new governemtn was working so hard to get along. Thye sure did behind the curtain

Anonymous said...

The Sociopath

'In 1997 Campbell agreed to improve pension benefits for some MLAs, backing a deal negotiated by then Liberal House leader Gary Collins. Campbell, like James, reneged, leaving Collins to dangle in the wind. Just as James left Mike Farnworth.'

People who lie constantly are often called pathological liars. That's not an official clinical diagnosis, which means it's not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, or DSM-IV.

Chronic lying in adults is often a manifestation of antisocial personality disorder (also known as sociopathy). Sociopaths are deceitful and manipulative in order to gain personal profit or pleasure.

Anonymous said...

The only good thing to come out of this awful performance on Bill 17 is the way rank and file NDP immediately rose up with one voice of protest. No evasion. No whitewash. No scapegoating.

For a long time into the future, I'll remember all those other people too who demonstrated that New Democrats are held to a higher ethical standard ... and we weren't about to let that crash.

But there's surely work to be done and I can't see how Carole James (nice lady though she is) can lead the way back to high ground now.

Anonymous said...

It's a great deal easier to build up trust with party members . To lose the trust , then work to rebuild it is much harder. As voters we get into the habit of believing what candidates have to say. Fool us once shame on you, fool us twice, shame on us.
The folks seem to expect the premier and his side to be a bit devious, but Ms. James was going to do politics differenty. She sure did, she cooked a deal then got cold feet with all the negative comments by the tax payers.
Ms. James will find it hard to get the rank and file to once more believe her. One pundit said." Don't trust anyone of them so watch carefully".

It will be interesting if most folks forget this little sort of well planned pilfering of the public purse, in the next few months. It's so sad to see the apparent outrage between the two sides of the house knowing that they colluded in the back room.

Some are better actors than others so watch your purse. A sad sleezy affair all round.