Tuesday, May 26, 2009

BC NDP MLAs take 29% pay raise, lose moral high ground

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours & The Tyee Column

Tuesday May 26, 2009

NDP Grabs 'Obscene' Pay Raise

That's what James called the 29 per cent pay hike when Libs took it.

View Tyee article and comments here


By Bill Tieleman

It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.

-- Psychologist Alfred Adler

In a week when it was announced welfare cases are up an astounding 47 per cent in British Columbia since last year, B.C. New Democratic Party MLAs said they are going to take the 29 per cent pay increase they strongly rejected in 2007.

After an election campaign where the NDP rightly attacked the B.C. Liberals for this province's shameful record of leading Canada in child poverty for five straight years, NDP MLAs will no longer be obligated to donate their wage hike to local charities.

And almost two years to the day when NDP leader Carole James raked B.C. Liberal MLAs over the coals in the Legislature for voting in an "obscene pay increase", she and her colleagues have reversed their position and will accept the salary increase from $76,100 to $98,000 and more.

All of this comes after the NDP caucus attempted in 2007 to imitate King Solomon and show wisdom by proposing to cut the baby in half -- saying they would accept a generous proposed pension plan but reject the wage increase.

A great campaign issue, booted

The alternative, I argued at the time, was to campaign against the entire package proposed by a B.C. Liberal-appointed elitist compensation committee and make it a major issue across the province.

After all, before the pension and pay proposal was hatched every MLA was making almost double the average annual B.C. wage of $41,500 -- and the $76,100 was more than what 90 per cent of British Columbians earned.

And MLAs were previously getting an RRSP contribution of nearly $7,000 a year -- that's over double the B.C. average of $3,000 -- and just 31 per cent of Canadians even have an RRSP.

But NDP MLAs couldn't resist the pension plan and, apparently, can't keep rejecting the salary hike either.

Charities are the big losers

So now they reap the disappointment of the many B.C. charities who collectively received over $485,000 between April 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008.

Sandy Bryce, executive director of Victoria's Mary Manning Centre, which helps child sex-abuse victims, says the NDP decision is "very unfortunate."

"I have no idea why the decision was made and nobody has talked to me about that. Any time there's any reduction in any kind of funding that we receive, it always has a direct impact on the level of services we can provide for children," she told the Vancouver Province.

Carole James and three other Victoria MLAs had been making donations, she said.

The pay and pension issue has now bit the New Democrats in the posterior three different times, first when they agreed to a backroom deal and then reneged under public pressure in 2005, again in 2007 and now with the final chapter.

James herself told the Legislature on May 17, 2007: "The B.C. Liberals have decided they actually don't care what the public thinks. They want that raise, every one of them wants that raise, and they're going to pass this bill."

And what will the public think now that NDP MLAs are doing the same?

But none of this is to say individual MLAs won't continue to give all or part of their salary to worthy charities. Likely some will and others won't, and if their constituents aren't happy it could be an election issue in 2013.

B.C. Liberals greedily jammed NDP

The B.C. Liberals are the scoundrels in this whole episode, refusing to allow any MLAs to opt out of the pension plan and keep their RRSPs or to decline the pay increase unless they gave up any raise permanently, ruthlessly jamming the NDP MLAs into accepting the overall package.

And the B.C. Liberals have managed to make the NDP MLAs the victims for trying to do the right thing while escaping criticism themselves, including Premier Gordon Campbell and his own 54 per cent wage hike -- a whopping $89,000 raise.

But the NDP's high road on MLA pay is now lost and the caucus needs to think a lot harder about how it deals with major public policies if it wants to win in 2013.



DPL said...

Some folks claim to have high pricipals, but show they like money, and lots of it, just like the people they spend times criticising. Rather two faced to say the least. The present NDP Leader has shown us how to complain but with her hand out.
Yet we keep electing such folk. Are we basically stupid or actually belive some of the BS they spread.

Anonymous said...

I am of the opinion it was only a matter of time before the NDP MLAs caved in and started reaping the rewards of the odious pay raise and pension benefits.

I agree with Bill the NDP should have campaigned vigorously against the entire package instead of trying to come up with their loopy face saving scheme of donating their increased benefits to charities. I do not agree the Liberals jammed or forced the NDP to accept the package. The NDP and their backroom planners fumbled a glorious opportunity to challenge the Liberals with an issue which would resonate with the voters.

The NDP dodge is similar to the Reform Party's campaign against Ottawa's gold plated pension schemes. It wasn't too long before the reformers, who garnered a lot of support from the public with this stand, abandoned their principled position and were lined up at the pension trough with a myriad of excuses and talking points to justify their sudden conversion.

Seems like the NDP has a tough time realizing when they are formulating their policies that they can't suck and blow at the same time. What the voting public is looking for is strong leadership and courses of action --- not a rag tag collection of half baked policies concocted in an effort to appeal to the special interest groups while ignoring or turning off the majority of the middle of the road electorate.

I’m also of the opinion it is time for the James Gangs’ planners and backroom strategists to pack up and climb onto the old buckboard and head off into the sunset with their aged, outdated policies and practices in tow – plus I wouldn’t be too saddened if James herself was on board -- sans the reins.

Slowly fade in the orchestra, the sounds of a cracking whip, creaky wheels and hoof beats.

Now, through the dust and into the sunset …… fade ……to…… b--l--a--c--k…….

Anonymous said...

Maybe you keep electing such folk, I wouldn't vote for the Liberals or NDP if my life depended on it. Sure wish there was something we could do about that. Why would the NDP want to win when they're doing just fine as election losers?

Rod Smelser said...

"And almost two years to the day when NDP leader Carole James raked B.C. Liberal MLAs over the coals in the Legislature for voting in an "obscene pay increase", she and her colleagues have reversed their position and will accept the salary increase from $76,100 to $98,000 and more."Prior to a recent contract adjustment, my salary as an economist in the federal public service was $76,145, a difference of less than $50 per year compared to the old MLA rate of pay.

It has since been raised to $79,065.

I would be interested to hear what Bill Tieleman and the other posters are making. After all, if the subject is "how much do YOU make", why not have everyone put their own cards face up on the table? Surely they're can't be any harm in full disclosure, can there?

Bill Tieleman said...

Rod - I'm not an elected public official and I'm not asking people to have me represent them in the BC Legislature. Trying to make the issue your salary, mine or anyone else's personal income is irrelevant.

Do you support MLAs making what I'm told is now a base salary of $101,859?

Anonymous said...

As a general rule I am of the opinion that people who prefer not too disclose their income are making too much money.

Naturally there are exceptions because it really is nobody's business, anyone who declines to answer on principle is doing the right thing, anyone who declines simply because they don't want people to know they are overpaid, then I feel perfectly just in inferring what I like.

I don't have a problem disclosing my income (easy when I'm anonymous, right?) but I don't think it will benefit this discussion unless someone just has to know.

During the campaign I was impressed to hear the leader of the People's Front, Charles Boylan, discuss the earnings debate. I agree with him it's not the minimum wage that needs addressing but the MAXIMUM wage, although he didn't suggest a figure.

I would say $60K but I'm a bit socialist. Definitely anyone over $75K who isn't donating most of it to worthwhile charities in view of the unnecessary poverty we see, is no friend of the human race. But that's just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Bill, did the NDP promise to lower MLA wages if elected?

Bill Tieleman said...

The NDP pledged at the time of the 2007 decision to appoint a new commission to review MLA wages.

NDP leader Carole James said recently in the Times-Colonist her commitment was always to review the MLAs’ pay raise if the NDP formed government.

“Obviously, we weren’t successful,” she said.

Here is part of Carole James statement in the Legislature on May 17, 2007:

"There's no question that compensation for MLAs is a difficult issue. Every MLA in this House knows that from our experiences. The process that led to this bill had its flaws, but it was independent. But as others have said, the final decision rests with us.

When I ran for office, I ran knowing the situation. I ran knowing the amount of money I was going to be paid. I ran knowing the challenges that that was going to present for me, for my family, for others.

I didn't run because I wanted to change that. I ran because I wanted to change things for people in my community and make life better - because of that government's direction.

Every one of us will be accountable to our constituents. Every one of us will be accountable to the public for our vote here in the Legislature.

I want to put out one last appeal to government members.

For once - once in the last six years - will you listen to your constituents, will you listen to the voice of the public, and join us and vote no on Bill 37?"

Anonymous said...

Carole James seems to conveniently leave out the part where the NDP and the Liberals worked together for months and unanimously PASSED their own pay raise and pension package before Carole James pulled the rug out under them all from the safety of Saskatchewan.

Obviously they thought they deserved more or they would have never done all of that work in the first place. After Carole James flip flopped she said the pay and pension should not be left up to politicians but rather a panel of citizens. This is precisely what occurred.

The NDP got outmanoeuvred badly when Campbell gave them the chance to “opt out” and of course none of the hypocrites did. Funny how the NDP never posted Harry Lali’s charity donations list did they ?

Rod Smelser said...

"Rod - I'm not an elected public official and I'm not asking people to have me represent them in the BC Legislature. Trying to make the issue your salary, mine or anyone else's personal income is irrelevant."Bill, I don't buy the idea that because one is paid from public funds that one loses any comparability with salaries paid elsewhere for work of comparable responsibility, qualifications, and other factors. Neither do I buy into the Canadian notion that 95% of us should be able to keep our incomes secret, but those who work on their behalf should live in a financial gold fish bowl. It's really part of a backward, Victorian attitude, and other parts of that attitude are responsible for a lot of our pay, productivity, and labour relations problems.

I prefer the Scandinavian model where each year the tax authorities put out a huge phone book type publication listing with every taxpayer's name, address, phone number, amounts earned and taxes paid. We should do that in Canada. It would end the mysteries around who gets what, and would help to inform the pursuit of rational incentives in the job market.

Do you support MLAs making what I'm told is now a base salary of $101,859?I am not going to object. The objections from the NDP last time had to do with timing and political appearances, a wage increase for MLAs when minimum wages weren't being raised and neither were those of many public sector employees. However, there's been another election and the public decided not to vote for higher minimum wages or higher welfare support levels, so there is no point in going further on this track.

As for the new figure of $100,000 per year, I know people here in the bureaucracy who have no public profile, no advanced qualifications, supervise few if any staff and manage only modest financial amounts, and they are making that kind of money. The reality is that my $80,000 isn't what it used to be and neither is $100,000.

If you won't tell me what your annual income is, Bill, could you tell me if you think a Vancouver City MLA, if single and not yet the recipient of any vast inheritance, could buy a home in their riding on an income of $100,000 per year? What kind of home?

Bill Tieleman said...

Rod - you can figure out if an MLA can buy a home in Vancouver on an income of $100,000 quite well on your own - you're an economist!

So you should also know that our Vancouver MLA would be buying an apartment or condo - so what?

Or perhaps they'd decline to buy an live in cooperative housing?

Rod Smelser said...

Yes, I think I can figure it out, and roughly speaking the answer is that they could not buy a detached house or even a half-duplex. In fact, they could not afford to buy an apartment larger than one bedroom, for the most part. What do your calculations show, Bill?

So, if that is the case, how are these salaries excessive?

There is a pattern involved here. When AG Oppal received a similar panel report on the pay for Crown Prosecutors he rejected in on purely political grounds as too much money.

Anonymous said...

When this issue first came up, a poll showed that British Columbians, on average, mistakenly thought that MLAs made $200,000 per year.

It makes sense that they make $100,000 per year. It's a hard job. They work harder -- especially the good ones, and especially cabinet ministers -- than almost anyone in the private sector.

If people think it pays a lot, then why don't they run for office?