Increases out of line at this time

Premier floating review to support deputy ministers, but hard to justify

Published on July 10, 2014

Premier Robert Ghiz

©Guardian photo

There is a good reason why the salary levels of P.E.I.’s deputy ministers are the lowest in the region and perhaps among all the provinces — we have by far the smallest population. It would make sense that the time and strain of doing the job here should not be as onerous. The chairperson of the O’Leary Village Commission is not going to make the same salary as the mayor of the City of Summerside.

The P.E.I. government says it is reviewing salaries and pension benefits paid to deputy ministers. Premier Robert Ghiz suggests the salary levels of P.E.I.’s deputy ministers are the lowest in the region. And well they should be. It only makes sense.

We’re sure our deputies are busy, work hard and are doing a good job. Why else would they be hired and retained? But this province is trying to balance a budget deficit of more than $50 million and start paying down a $2-billion debt. It’s not in a position to start bumping up salaries of deputy ministers to get them into regional balance.

Yes, we want to attract the best people possible and the salaries have to be attractive to get strong candidates out of the private sector to work on behalf of the taxpayers of this province. But let’s be realistic at what we can afford and what we expect from these deputies.

By coincidence, the province released its latest statistical review this week. P.E.I.’s 2013 population was listed as 145,237. Newfoundland and Labrador is 526,702, Nova Scotia 940,789 and New Brunswick 756,050. Which deputy minister of health should have the toughest job in Atlantic Canada and which province should be paying the top salary? Hmmm . . . Nova Scotia?

Our present salaries are generous. Of our 11 deputies, seven make more than $134,000 and three of those are over $145,000. The other two max out at more than $124,000. That’s not bad.

Premier Ghiz estimates deputy ministers in Atlantic Canada are underpaid by about $50,000 compared to all the other regions. Is he referring to Ontario, which has 13,500,000 people, and what is he suggesting?

Our premier argues current salaries make it difficult to attract and retain well-educated professionals qualified to run government departments and provide policy advice to cabinet. It’s expected the premier will support his senior staff. But deputies should be compensated with cost of living increases and that’s it. If they don’t like it, well, good luck somewhere else because there are lots of bright individuals anxious to work hard, do a good job and have a crack at those salaries.

At one time, the life span of a deputy might be four years because when a government changed, the deputies usually went out the door with the minister. The positions are not nearly as partisan these days but there is a job security risk and they deserve a good salary which they are now getting.

They are also getting a double pension plan where government covers all premiums and deputies do not have to pay into it.

An increase to cover the Consumer Price Index is acceptable, as long as it would accompany an elimination of the double pension earnings.

Some good advice for deputies is to reduce hospital wait times, bring energy costs under control, find better markets for lobster, improve our highway system, provide welfare recipients a decent income, increase employment opportunities, reduce the need for pesticides and then come see us about a bump in salary.

It’s time we live within our means and keep our expectations within reason. There is work to be done.