Saturday, May 12, 2007

MLA Pay and Pension report bombshell - where is the NDP?

BC NDP MLAs missing in action on golden opportunity as one Pay and Pension Commissioner says final report was altered without her consent or involvement

You would think that nothing could be closer to manna from heaven for an opposition party than to discover that an "independent commission" appointed to deal with a highly controversial issue had published its final report without consulting one of its three members.

You would guess that with two of the three members of the Commission changing previously agreed-upon conclusions and emailing the final version to the third member while she was in Europe and unable to respond would be "get up on your hind legs in Question Period and howl" material.

But when it comes to the Independent Commission to Review MLA Compensation and when it comes to the BC NDP opposition you would be dead wrong.

After my 24 hours colleague Sean Holman, also of Public Eye Online, broke this major story Thursday morning with an exclusive interview with dissenting commissioner Sandra Robinson, I assumed this would be Job #1 in Thursday's Legislative Question Period.

But no, not a single word. Nor a single news release. Nor a single media interview.

To be abundantly clear - Robinson blew the whistle on her colleagues, Commission chair Sue Paish, a QC lawyer, and Josiah Wood, a QC lawyer and former Appeal Court justice.

Here's part of what Robinson said in the Public Eye/24 hours story:

"There's quite a few," disagreements said Robinson, But "the biggest area of disagreement would have been on the pension - both the type and the actual size of the pension."

"But we negotiated out a set of recommendations and signed-off on those. And, then, it was only after I was in Europe that they changed their minds and came up with a different set" of recommendations. "So, yeah, to be completely left out - to have no influence on the outcome - was certainly frustrating."

Prof. Robinson said she was "just told - via email - they would be doing that."

So the BC Liberal government put out the report calling for a massive 29% pay raise and a pension worth 37% of an MLA's salary and a 53% raise for Premier Gordon Campbell, and on, and on - and never once mentioned that the report had been changed without the consent of one of the three commissioners?

That the dissenting commissioner had been "completely left out"?

And NDP MLAs don't raise this shocking situation in the Legislature?

What's more, according to my sources, NDP MLAs also refused several opportunities to comment on the story in the media?

And if one were to go to the BC NDP caucus website, not only will you not see any news releases on the issue of the Commission report being altered without the approval of the dissident commissioner, you won't find a single comment on the entire issue of MLA pay and pension.

UPDATE - My error - there is a news release dated May 4, 2007 stating that the NDP Caucus had rejected the pay and pension package. It is not on the main page of the website but is listed chronologically within the "news releases" section - my apologies for missing it. MLA Harry Lali's apology for saying he would vote for the package is also on the website but not easily found.


This dispite the fact the NDP Leader Carole James has strongly and correctly condemned the pay and pension package and said the NDP caucus will not support it.

I don't know why. I don't have any idea why the NDP is not making a stink about this.

Even if the NDP wholeheartedly supported the pay and pension package - which it actually opposes - a vigorous opposition would still condemn the government and the Commission for effectively silencing one of its members.

And if you oppose the package - which the NDP does - why would you not drive this issue of the Commission's tainted report so as to force the BC Liberals to drop the entire proposal, kill it dead?

Where is the public campaign to drop the pay raises? Where are the newspaper and radio ads? Where are the town hall meetings?

Doesn't anyone in the NDP realize this is a total political gift? It's possible an aggressive opposition could reverse its fortunes and actually win an election on such a populist issue that appeals not only to its lower-income base but actually crosses BC's traditional political cleavages?

Polling by Ipsos-Reid showed 67% opposed the big pay raises, with a whopping 48% "strongly opposed.

And yet, nothing.

There are several reasons why the BC NDP is behind the BC Liberals by a margin of 16 percentage points - 51% Liberal to 36% NDP according to the Mustel Group poll released May 10, confirming an earlier Ipsos-Reid poll with similar numbers.

But one of the most important has to be a failure to go for the jugular of the Gordon Campbell Liberals when they make a big mistake.

And with the BC Liberals benefiting from a strong economy and with Campbell changing his right wing spots faster than a painted leopard in a car wash to capture middle of the road voters, the NDP can't miss any opportunity to capitalize on Liberal errors.

Instead, it seems far too often to be content with waving from the sidelines as the parade goes by.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, a 28% increase is being mooted for the lemurs in the legislature the same week a group of health care workers in Nanaimo are fired for the third time so their wages can be cut yet again, leading to an increase in corporate profits. The Liberals logic seems to be -- MLAs: worth the money, plus another one-third. Workers who take care of our grannies: overpaid burden on the taxpayers. http://www.nanaimobulletin.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=51&cat=23&id=982668&more=

Bill Tieleman -- fodder for your newspaper column?

Budd Campbell said...

Bill, I have to say that whenever people start trying to discern why parties are at the levels they are at in opinion polls it tends to become a mug's game of attribution error.

I have to be honest with you. I have yet to hear one single real voter, as opposed to a political watcher or activist, suggest to me even indirectly that the NDP needs to be harsher or more argumentative or is not "going for the jugular". These are complaints average voters have no stake in, it's irrelevant to them.

Voters will change their minds about a party if they believe it's working or not working in their interests, usually their economic interests. With 4% unemployment it's a bit difficult for labour and social democrats to persuade people that a right wing government in Victoria is ruining their lives. If the opposition is opposed to big projects like Gateway that are seen by the public as pro-job creation and pro-wage increases, the case tends to get closed on them pretty quickly.

Anonymous said...

Budd, you may need to have your hearing checked- I and many others like me have been saying for a long time now that Carole James and the NDP have been utterly invisible as an Opposition. Their silence on this issue isn't merely disappointing, it's entirely too typical. At the very least, Carole James needs to be dumped asap, and then we can consider targeting all the NDP MLA's who have been silent, incompetent, and ineffectual right alongside her. The number of effective NDP MLA's can be counted on one hand, with a couple of digits left over.

Budd Campbell said...

Budd, you may need to have your hearing checked- I and many others like me have been saying for a long time now that Carole James and the NDP have been utterly invisible as an Opposition.

Normally I wouldn't reply to an anonymous comment, but it is Monday morning and my sense of humour is kind of weak right now. As I tried to point out, comments like this, that Carole James has been too polite and civilized, are completely and utterly ridiculous.

The general public has made it abundantly clear that they have zero interest in this kind of cult-like political junkieism. Voters detest the "talk-shop" elements of politics, and an Opposition Party that has voice but no power needs to be aware of that. They must not fall into the trap of Chronic Oppositionitis. Carole is moving in the right direction, and her critics, including Bill Tieleman, are showing that their thinking is still stuck in the 1980s when Shiela Copps and Brian Tobin and the Liberal "rat pack" made a few headlines against Brian Mulroney's 200 seat Tory Govt in Ottawa.

Carole's number one problem is the ecological bullshitters in the NDP, urban jungle MLAs like Simpson and Chudnovsky who like to pose as defenders of the Great Outdoors through their silly-bugger opposition to Gateway. It's really designed to pander to the social status driven anti-Surrey sentiments of Vancouver City residents, and to reassure them that their residential property values won't be challenged by faster growth in the suburbs.

Anonymous said...

Oh I don't know Budd, I think the Opposition will play nice on this salary bill at their peril.

The average British Columbian DOES care about how their legislators pay themselves and I think Tieleman is a lot closer to the pulse of the people than you are.

Carole James doesn't even answer her mail.

Trust me, I know. And I hear from dozens of real voters about it all the time.

If she and the people advising her don't soon recognize the disconnect between what the people expect from the Opposition and what they're actually getting - as Bill points out very clearly in this article - they can get ready now to collect the extra pay as nothing more than members of the opposition for another 4 years after 2009.

It's not Chudnovsky that's the problem. It’s lack of leadership and spine. That, and a continuing propensity to listen to guys like Moe Sihota who were a big part of reducing the NDP to its sorry state back in 2001.

I don't know if it's a lack of money or a lack of jam but something is clearly missing.

The Opposition has enough ammunition to make the government very uncomfortable on BCRail, the treaty process and now the Pay Bill and they are doing virtually nothing.

When the pay bill hits the Legislature this week we'll find out whether or not they have the courage of their convictions and if they don't, it will be Gordon Campbell or his female successor who laughs all the way to the bank about it.

It's finally put up or shut up time for Carole. There are several very active networks of voters and progressives out there who've been working hard, constantly and dedicatedly to advance the interests of progressive politics in this province. The current members in the legislature, including the leader of the opposition, seem pretty much inclined to think they can do the job without the help and participation of these networks.

They can't. And the opposition won't succeed without them and their help and advice. People don't just vote their economic interests and when it comes time to vote on that pay package and make the tough decision about whether to opt out or not, the Opposition had better remember that too and behave accordingly.

Frank said...

I agree with Budd in that although I wish there was more of a stink made about what the Libs do, I think the last election shows that the NDP is probably better off letting people get mad on their own.

The NDP will get back in power when the voters throw the Libs out. And if they feel James is a comfortable voice they'll move their vote to her perhaps instead of a new party.

Budd Campbell said...

I don't know if the second anonymous and the earlier anonymous are the same people, and I really don't care. No one should, after all.

"Carole James doesn't even answer her mail.

Trust me, I know. ...

It's not Chudnovsky that's the problem. It’s lack of leadership and spine. That, and a continuing propensity to listen to guys like Moe Sihota ...

It's finally put up or shut up time for Carole. There are several very active networks of voters and progressives out there who've been working hard, constantly and dedicatedly to advance the interests of progressive politics in this province."


I just wanted to point out that in the above excerpts one can find several of the boilerplate, formula-driven critiques that are usually offered up by people trying to persuade New Democrats that they have a leadership problem. In this regard, I am reminded of the Barlee-Geoghegan commentaries on Glen Clark some years ago. They had already joined the Federal and BC Liberals, yet posed publicly as unhappy NDPers trying to save the party from Clark's downhill slide, ... which they were in fact trying to accelerate.