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Thursday, April 05, 2007

MLAs deserve a significant pay raise

Dear Commissioners:

The purpose of this submission is to argue that there should be a significant increase in the salary and pension benefits currently provided to BC MLAs and moreover the salary and benefits should be assigned to corresponding management level pay grids as is currently the case with civil servants and political staff.

In preparing this presentation I was frustrated by the fact that there is no listing on either the BC government or legislative website of the current salaries, benefits and expense allowances for MLAs. Whatever you recommend with respect to MLA pay rates and pensions, I urge you to also recommend that all details of their compensation and benefits be made available on the Legislative website.

From September of 1989 until July of 1996 I worked at the BC Legislature. For most of that time I served as the Ministerial Assistant to Minister Bill Barlee. Unlike MLAs, my salary was not subject to some arbitrary and acrimonious political process but was instead tied to management level pay. At that time it was ML4 so as the pay grid shifted so too did my salary. The pension I received was the standard one for government employees.

It was during this time that I served as a Ministerial Assistant MLA salaries were initially reduced and then frozen and the so called “gold plated” pension plan was repealed - although of course not retroactively. MLA salaries were modestly increased following the adoption of the 1997 Citizen's Panel Report on MLA Compensation.

Now once again we are into yet another review process. However all of the secrecy and acrimony over MLA salaries could be eliminated if salaries were based on the existing management level (ML) pay grid. So for example an MLA could be assigned an ML 6 pay level, cabinet ministers could be assigned ML 11 and the Premier ML 12. The Speaker could also be assigned ML 11 and the Deputy Speaker 80% of ML 11. The beauty of assigning salaries based on the pre-existing ML system is that once these assignments have been made salaries will automatically increase over time as they do for the rest of the civil service including political staffers.

Presently compensation arrangements for all MLAs are handled by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC). This committee does its work in camera and Hansard does not record it. Since 1997 the LAMC has had the legislative authority to set salaries for: the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Chair, Committee of the Whole, the Leader of the Official Opposition, the Government Whip, the Deputy Government Whip, the Opposition House Leader, the Official Opposition Whip, the Government Caucus Chair, the Official Opposition Caucus Chair, and the Chair of Select Standing or Special Committees as well as the corresponding position for any other recognized party in the legislature.

The base pay for MLAs is currently at $76,000, which is only about half of what an MP in Ottawa makes. In fact a backbench MP in Ottawa receives a higher wage than does a cabinet minister here in British Columbia.

Some may argue that $76,000 is significantly higher than what an average British Columbian makes. Well we don’t need average British Columbians seeking office in this province we need the brightest and the best. If you keep political salaries too low you tend to attract two kinds of people. The first are the idle rich, people who made their money the old fashioned way – they inherited it from mommy and daddy – and are now looking to make a name for themselves. The other person is one where being an MLA is the best paying job they are ever going to have in their lives.

I can recall one former MLA who well being a nice enough person had worked as a dishwasher at a hotel. Being an MLA, even with the wage freeze that was on at the time, certainly proved to be the best paying job this individual had ever had.

Low salaries and great responsibility is also a recipe for corruption. If MLAs are well paid and have generous pension plans most will find it easy to resist the siren call of under the table money or post-election pasta consulting contracts.

The other thing we must keep in mind is that unlike most government employees, MLAs do not work Monday to Friday nine to five. They have the work they do at the legislature and the work they do at their constituency. Other than perhaps a week with the family over Christmas or a couple of weeks in the summer they often work seven days a week.

They must also maintain two households, one here in Victoria and another in their constituency. Cabinet Ministers like deputy ministers, have great responsibility. In my view they should be paid a similar wage rate. MLAs also collectively have great responsibility and are asked to exercise themselves in a manner that is beyond reproach.

We certainly expect MLAs to hold themselves up to a far higher standard of decorum than we would ask of ourselves or anyone else. The slightest misstep and they can find themselves demoted or ridiculed in the media and their reputations ruined.

MLAs take a lot of abuse and so too do their families. In fact it is because of the manner in which politics and politicians have become so denigrated that many upon leaving office find it difficult to return to work. There are a lucky few, usually Premiers or Finance Ministers of pro-business governments, who may go on to lucrative careers but they tend to be the exception. Worse still the longer a person stays an elected official the more difficult it is for them to make the transition back to making a living as a private citizen.

It is for this reason that I think MLA Pension Plans and severance packages should be generous. For example I think that if MLAs are defeated (as opposed to simply retiring from politics by not running again) they should receive one months severance for every full year they served as an MLA up to a maximum of two years salary.

I also believe that the pension plan should be based on a scale where if you have served for twenty years as an MLA you receive 100% of your MLA pay as a pension. Thus if you had served only ten years you would only receive 50% of your pay, three years 15% etc.

But the fundamental recommendation I would make is to peg MLA salaries to an ML wage level. Additional responsibilities such as being appointed to cabinet would boost you up to a higher ML level.

Finally I would also recommend that MLAs salaries need to be immediately increased to around the $100,000 per year mark. BC cabinet ministers should also make more than backbench MPs in Ottawa and cabinet ministers should also make a wage that is comparable to the Deputy Ministers that report to them.


Michael Geoghegan


Gumsehwah said...

Spot on, Geogan!

I was talking to our MP (NDP) who spilled to me what his salery was, and was horrified to find out what MLAs were making, AS WELL AS WHAT WE WERE making. He even asked me why more people didn't go corrupt in backroom deals with the private sector than actually did.

I'm a great believer of EQUAL pay for EQUAL work. Remember how we used to have the cream of our staff bleed off to the private sector? The incentive wasn't just merely "cash". It was the respect of the very people we served. Personally, I blame alot of inequity with comprable jurisdictions on the typically "british columbian" attitude that anyone who is paid by the public purse is inherently spoild and corrupt, and should only be paid grudgeingly. Good way to alienate the finest in society.

The only alternative I can see to the solution above, is to cut everyones salary to $1, so that only the senatorial and equestrian classes can afford to work for the province of British Columbia. "Real" payment could be in the form of "Honeras et Dignitas" (honer and dignity), and in the form of all the graft and troughing that you can arrange for yourself while in the employ of the crown.


Mark Beardsell//

Mike Geoghegan said...

Thanks for your feedback Mark, as for the dollar a day idea that would mean only the wealthy could afford to hold public office...

mikroman said...

Micheal G wrote:
"If you keep political salaries too low you tend to attract two kinds of people. The first are the idle rich, people who made their money the old fashioned way – they inherited it from mommy and daddy – and are now looking to make a name for themselves. The other person is one where being an MLA is the best paying job they are ever going to have in their lives."
Can you tell me what percent of political workers didn't walk into money? Or haw many actually came up the ranks from a min. wage job.
I am not a public service employee I am public service employer.