The insanity defence

Ivory Warner - a member of the 1997 citizens' panel on MLA compensation - is slamming suggestions legislators should get a 29 percent base salary increase. Speaking with Public Eye Radio yesterday, the former BC Nurses Union president said, "If this were any other group of workers...who were receiving a 29 percent wage increase, every one of those MLAs would be voting no. I have no doubt in my mind. They would just be saying, 'Are you out of your mind?'"

"I don't think it should be 29 percent. I think if you're thinking the base salary is too low then you look at a way to implement an increase in that. But you don't do it in all one felll swoop. You look at it in increments just like anybody else gets - perhaps a percentage over the next whatever number of years until you bring it to a level that you think is fair. And then you leave it there. And then you have a forumla that says this is how we get our increases."

But doesn't such a forumla already exist? "Apparently, it wasn't good enough for these folks," responded Ms. Warner.

Asked why the recent independent commission to review MLA compensation came up with such different recommendations than her own panel - which was much less generous to MLAs - Ms. Warner pointed to it's composition. The commission - whose recommendations are being supported by the Liberals - included a senior lawyer, a former judge and a business professor. By comparison, Ms. Warner's panel had five members from different walks of life.

"We were people who were ordinary British Columbians who understood what it's like to work day-to-day. We had Gordy who was a businessman - a small businessman who knew how (people) struggle. We had Colin from Fort St. John - a northern community. And he understood the citizens of his community. And, yes, they were well-paid because they're in the north. But he also understood how they thought. And I think all of us were quite aware of how British Columbians think about their MLAs - (they) believe they should be compensated but don't believe that, off the backs of the public purse, they become rich."

Ms. Warner also stood by her panel's decision to give MLAs a voluntary group registered retirement savings plan rather than a defined benefit plan. "We had a thorough discussion about this because we were citizens from a number of groups. Some people had pension plans - some people did not. Some of us felt, working in public life, perhaps there should be some kind of pension plan. But I think all of us agreed that what the MLAs should receive should be understandable to all British Columbians."

"Most people at that time were moving towards a RRSP plan - including the federal government who, at that time, was recommending everybody should be contributing toward their own RRSP plans. And we just felt that one of the big bugbears - both in the federal politics and provincial - was that huge pension plan that people could get after a certain amount of time in politics...We just felt that it was totally out of the realm of most British Columbians."

6 Comments

I'm curious if there was a compensation package for the three-member commission (per dium, etc), and if so, how did it compare to compensation for the panel Ivory Warner sat on.

I would certainly agree with Warner that if a large increase is warranted it should come in stages over, say, five years or so.

Otherwise, it will simply continue another decade or so of poor labour relations climate in BC, especially the public sector, as workers dare dream of some equality with the very people who can rip up their colletive agreements with impunity.

In any pay and compensation review there are basically two elements to look at, levels compared to others, and rates of change compared to others. No union would argue that if a group of workers has, for whatever reasons, fallen far behind the pay of similar people elsewhere that they should necessarily be denied a full catch-up simply because the percentage increase would grab headlines. The response would be, too bad, you should have thought of this over the last five or ten years when you let these people fall behind.

What is missing from this latest review of BC legislators pay is a full comparison with other jurisdictions and with typical private and public sector jobs in BC. How does the total compensation of an MLA compare to that of a high school principal or a bank branch manager? And please don't pretend that everyone is a rank and file backbencher, many have duties above and beyond that, plus there are expenses for attending meetings in some cases. What are the typical total annual payouts to MLAs, here and elsewhere?

While the committee started that job by preparing some fairly good tables {http://www.leg.bc.ca/bcmlacomp/media/PDF/Remuneration-Comparisons.pdf} they didn't finish that job by getting together some annual total receipts from each jurisdiction. The reason might be that that sort of thing impinges on privacy rules! It also did not attempt to compare MLAs with non-legislative jobs in BC.

Get this - at the new raise level MLAs will be making the same $ as a top end nurse!

Get this - at the new raise level MLAs will be making the same $ as a top end nurse!

What's your source for this assertion, huh?

29% RAISE....ONLY!?
I sure hope these MLA's are doing this for the money.

I meant not.....But I certainly would not want my MLA to be sleeping in his office so he can send some extra money back home, that would be sad.

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