By Andrew Mitchell
West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Joan McIntyre understands the concerns of her constituents over legislation that would increase the pay of MLAs and cabinet ministers, but asks people to read the independent review commission’s report on the issue before making up their minds.
“It’s always a very difficult subject to discuss when you’re talking about your own compensation, which is why I’m glad (government) went with an independent panel,” she said. “I urge people to read that report for themselves, it’s a very good outline of what’s involved and explains why the panel came to the conclusions that they did.”
Among other things, the report recommends that compensation for MLAs increase from $76,100 a year to $98,000. While that increase has been represented in the media as a 29 per cent increase, McIntyre says that doesn’t take into account an RRSP program that matches up to nine per cent of an MLAs income that will be scrapped if the new compensation package is passed. When that program is included, she says the increase is less than 20 per cent. It’s also the first legislated pay increase in 10 years, although pay has increased by 0.9 per cent annually.
However, the report also suggests the reinstatement of an MLA pension plan. The details of that plan are yet to be decided.
Premier Gordon Campbell, who will see his base compensation increase to $182,200 from $121,200 — a boost of 50 per cent — acknowledged that the pay increase would cause a public backlash, but said the conclusions of the report were fair and necessary to attract good candidates for public office. However, recognizing that the issue is controversial, he will also allow a free vote in the legislature on the issue, and for MLAs to choose to opt out of the package.
For their part, the NDP caucus is opposed to the pay raise and this week demoted one member after he spoke in favour of it. For her part, NDP leader Carole James said she would refuse the raise if it was approved by government. However, she conceded that some members of her party do feel they are underpaid and will vote for the raise.
The report was tabled last week by an independent review commssion established in January.
According to the report, “Our MLAs work extremely hard in the discharge of the heavy responsibilities of elected office. Many have made financial sacrifices to serve in that capacity and have great difficulty finding employment upon returning to private life.”
The report also suggested that members of the public do not understand what their MLAs do, or what they are currently compensated for the job. It also recommends making both compensation and the job requirements clear to the public and prospective MLAs.
The review committee conducted a telephone survey of 601 British Columbians, and submitted an e-mail survey to all 79 MLAs that garnered just 39 responses from sitting members. As well, seven public hearings were held around the province, resulting in 86 written submissions and 34 oral responses, while committee members interviewed 44 current and retired MLAs.
As well as pay increases and a return of the pension plan, the report also recommends reviewing MLA compensation every second term, or eight years, while increasing pay in accordance with the B.C. Consumer Price Index and two earnings-related indices.
McIntyre says it was important to have regular, independent salary reviews rather than review the issue of compensation every few years.
“It’s important that we do this so we don’t have to go through this agony again, to have at arm’s length once (salaries) catch up to where they should be nationally,” she said.
“It’s interesting that when you take into account this raise for MLAs and the stipends for ministers, it’s still under a Member of Parliament’s base salary, or what our MP Blair Wilson would be getting. And ministers are dealing with things close to home like health care, education… things that matter to constituencies in the riding. Ministers carry a lot of responsibility, which is why we needed an independent panel to put it into perspective. Again, I urge people to read the report for themselves.”
According to the report, the base pay of a B.C. MLA will be second in Canada to Ontario. However, another report released in 2006 by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation suggests that the base pay of B.C. MLAs will be the highest in the country, not counting other forms of compensation.
The pay increase legislation has not been tabled in the Legislature, although it was approved for consideration last week by the Liberal caucus.