Provincial New Democrat legislators are ending their caucus-wide policy of donating controversial pay raises for politicians, scrapping a practice that leader Carole James pointed to as recently as the televised election debate. In an interview, caucus chair Jenny Kwan said yesterday she expects that donation policy - under which Opposition members donated their extra pay, but kept their increased pension benefits - will not be continued, adding caucus intended it to last only until the election.
However, two years ago, Ms. James said if her party formed government, her preference would be to appoint another committee to reexamine the pay raises of 54 percent for the premier and 29 percent for MLAs, adding "there is no one I have talked to who says that is a reasonable increase."
News reports at the time said the New Democrats would make donations until the election, including their own pay plan in the party's campaign platform. But such a plan was never laid out.
Ms. James didn't reference the donation policy's expiry date during the recent leaders' debate earlier this month when the question of pay raises came up. "Yes, we did vote against that legislation," she said. "And, in fact, we've been donating the pay increase to groups and organizations across British Columbia," she said.
Ms. Kwan said she hasn't discussed the matter with anyone yet but didn't expect that policy to be continued. Ms. James wasn't available for comment yesterday. However, a New Democrat spokesman confirmed Ms. Kwan was speaking on the leader's behalf.
In January 2007, the government appointed a three-member independent commission to "conduct a fair and impartial review of compensation and pension arrangements for Members of the Legislative Assembly."
Three months later, two of the commission's members signed off on a report recommending that the base salary for MLA be increased by 29 per cent, to $98,000 from $76,100.
Organizations such as the Victoria's Mary Manning Centre for child abuse counselling, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Women's Centre and the United Way have been the beneficiaries of New Democrat MLAs donating that raise to charity.
For their own part, Liberal legislators took the pay raise, with the premier telling reporters prior to the vote, "I think we can't continue to say to people: "˜Give of yourself and your family to public life and we won't remunerate you fairly.'"