Commission seeking public input into remuneration, benefits scale
MLAs of all political stripes in the P.E.I. legislature must shudder at this time every year when a commission that decides their salaries looks for public input. It’s like tying them before the ship’s mast and lashing them with a cat o’ nine tails. There is no escaping this yearly, public punishment.
The Indemnities and Allowances Commission has issued a call for written submissions as part of its annual review of remuneration and benefits. It should be noted that if the public feels their MLAs are overpaid or not earning their salaries, then suggest their pay be reduced. There is nothing to say salaries must increase or be frozen.
But then we are entering dangerous territory. The public should be careful not to judge their MLAs too harshly, such as on the number of sitting days in the spring and fall sessions of the legislature. Those sessions may appear to be brief, four or five weeks each would be the norm. Islanders might ask themselves why are we paying MLAs this money for 10 to 11 weeks work?
An MLA’s job is a thankless one. They can expect to get a phone call day or night, or have someone drop in at the most inopportune time. You are expected to be at the beck and call of your constituent at all times. And let’s face it, the pay really isn’t that great, unless you are the premier, a party leader or in cabinet.
This is usually a favourite time for the Opposition to posture about freezing salaries in solidarity with ordinary Islanders. Sure enough, Opposition Leader Steven Myers says the commission’s work should be put on hold and all MLAs’ pay should be frozen until the provincial budget is balanced. He was especially critical of the HST which took effect April 1 as an excuse for government to keep digging into Islanders pockets looking for more money. He thinks MLAs should forego any raises until the province’s spending is brought under control.
Finance Minister Wes Sheridan has already pushed back his promise on delivering a balanced budget in two occasions. He’s quickly running out of time before the next election to deliver on that promise. If he doesn’t, then under Mr. Myers’ plan, MLAs won’t get a raise for more than two years.
A salary freeze would make it even harder to attract quality candidates. The public had better wake up to the fact you can’t constantly lampoon MLAs, pay them below what the job is worth and then expect to attract the best people for public office. It’s not going to happen. To govern in this age of tight budgets and limited resources you need the best people available, so let’s pay them what they are worth.
MLA’s pay sparked controversy earlier this year after legislators received a three per cent pay hike. It was really only one per cent but the previous year’s two-per-cent increase, which had been frozen, came into effect. This grandstanding about freezing wages just came back to haunt all MLAs and whatever political points were accused at the time was quickly forgotten.
Despite an austerity budget this spring, and millions in new revenues from the HST, the province is still projecting a deficit of almost $60 million this fiscal year. That is indeed disturbing.
Maybe a yearly pay increase might be more palatable if their generous pension plan was streamlined. That is the likely reason for public disenchantment and envy of our elected officials.