Maureen Bader: B.C. MLA pay freeze nothing more than April Fools’ joke
The April Fools’ Day MLA salary freeze was nothing more than an exercise in tomfoolery. And a good one too, because people were almost fooled. When Premier Gordon Campbell announced in January that MLA salaries would be frozen for 2010 and 2011 as of April 1, he tried to create the illusion of restraint during difficult economic times. However, according to the formula used to determine the automatic annual MLA pay adjustment, MLAs would have had no salary increase for 2010 anyway. Taxpayers, faced with their own economic worries and concerned about the deficit and skyrocketing debt, need to see real spending cuts, not spin and trickery.
Taxpayers have been forced to fund big pay increases for politicians in B.C. In 2007, the MLAs accepted the salary and pension recommendations from a hand-picked panel that saw MLA base pay increase from $76,100 to $98,000 per year, a 30 percent jump in a single blow. Annual salary increases were put into legislation and follow a prescribed rule, and today, the MLA base salary is $101,859 per year, a 34 percent increase from the previous 2007 base. The pay hikes, coupled with the increase in the number of MLAs from 79 to 87, mean the total base salary bill grew from $6 million in 2007 to $8.9 million in 2009, a 48 percent increase. All this and additional pay not discussed here mean politicians are becoming an expensive fixture for taxpayers.
The 2007 panel that reviewed MLA compensation recommended the basic salary be adjusted every year. The index used to calculate the annual MLA pay hike is from Statistics Canada’s December Consumer Price Index report. In the December 2009 report, the average change of the CPI in B.C. was zero percent. That means the increase in MLA pay for 2010 would have been zero, according to the established guidelines. There is no “freeze” for 2010 despite the announcement. Can you say bogus?
Taxpaying families concerned about stagnating incomes, increasing deficits, and skyrocketing debt might wonder just how serious government is about spending control when it engages in this type of trickery. Average annual salaries in B.C. rose from $38,896 in 2007 to $41,600 in 2009, a seven percent increase. Average family incomes rose from $81,239 in 2007 to $84,749 in 2009, a four percent increase. For taxpaying families, MLA pay has not only increased too much, it is out of line with what most families receive. It’s time for government to roll back the pay hikes to get them in line with those of taxpaying families.
This government has rolled back MLA base salaries and other perks before. In 2002, the government made a voluntary five percent reduction in the MLA base pay and a voluntary 25 percent reduction in their other funding. At the time, Premier Campbell said, “Our province has a significant structural deficit, and we must act quickly to restore sound fiscal management. MLAs were clear that they want our caucus to lead by example.” Then finance minister Gary Collins said: “It’s not about a lot of money. It is to try and send a message that we’re going to take a certain amount of the burden personally.”
The same holds true today.
Our politicians must lead by example once again and bring the cost of government into line with taxpayers’ ability to pay. Bogus pay freeze claims might fool a few, but not everyone. Now is the time to show leadership and roll back the 2007 pay increase.
Maureen Bader is the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.