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A clear victim of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the travel and eating habits of Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) politicians.
Yes, no more are there trips to Ottawa, Halifax and conference locales beyond these capital cities for discussion of those many important matters so vital to our well-being. The boardrooms remain vacant, luncheon plans at new restaurant are shelved and those free-time shopping plans, after all of the hard work is done, of course, are forcibly quashed.
It’s all gone, but yet, ineffably, the sun still rises and we manage to get by. I am at a loss, really, to understand this, unable to know how us poor sods out here in the hinterland can get by without all of those meetings and travelling taking place. And meals, of course, let me not forget the meals. For how can good results be achieved at a meeting without an accompanying fine meal or, as one councilor would say to me, ‘the eats were good.”
Yet, enough of these mere comments. Show us the facts, you say. The facts, not mere opinions, unsupported by evidence.
Okay, fair enough; here the facts:
For the last reported financial year, ending in March of 2019, CBRM councilors billed taxpayers a total of $121,366 for meals and travel. This figure does not include like expenses for the mayor and chief administrative officer, they coming in at a total of approximately $32,000.
The previous fiscal year, ending in 2018, councillors billed you $125,390. I suppose in their lingo this is spun as “cost-cutting!”
The average meal and travel expense per councilor then is slightly more than $10,000 yearly, with each councilor earning a base salary of $49,500. Even if it might be argued that such expenses are necessary, is what amounts to an additional 20 per cent of a councilor’s base salary appropriate?
It should be noted that Coun. Steve Gillespie only billed slightly more than $200 in expenses for each of these fiscal years. Former Coun. Kendra Coombs also stood out in this regard, she coming in at slightly more than $ 1,000.
How they might justify it all is a mystery to me. I am reminded of the snowplow driver in Marion Bridge who, after one bad snowstorm, put his time for that day in at 25 hours. The foreman said to him “I know you worked long but how could you work 25 hours when a full day has only 24?” The driver, with a straight face, replied, “Yeah, but I worked my dinner hour.’ I think his explanation holds up better than anything council could come up with to support their expense claims. Besides of which, the plow operator brought his own lunch.
This is a municipal election year and let us make it more than a popularity contest dominated by glib slogans and glitzy fund-raising efforts.
As I have asked of potential mayoralty candidates earlier, there are important issues to state policies and objectives on. We have a revenue versus expenditure problem which will only worsen without meaningful tax reform. Also, there are matters of regulation, garbage disposal and identifying necessary costs for the vital areas of police and fire services.
Council must and should set the course for effective action on these issues.
Unfortunately, this one has failed to do so.
This is a particular disappointment because when this council was elected in 2016, there was much talk of how its fresh faces would take on the supposed old order and, if not make great changes, at least begin the process where new approaches could be undertaken.
None of this has happened. It has been simply more of the same, namely grievance politics having political careerism as its underlying theme.
So, start setting the course by passing a resolution that all council, mayor and upper official travel and expenses are banned. The message should be that the party’s over.
None of the, well, council expenses amount to only a few dollars per resident and all of that nonsense. Set the example council and, while you’re at it with meal and travel expenses, initiate a three per cent per year pay-cut for the next four-year council session. You can live with it. The rest of us do and, by the way, we buy our own lunches.
Then, when council begins the real hard lifting with tax reform and other measures, it can legitimately adopt a “do as I do and not as I say” approach.
If I am wrong, please explain how more than $120,000 per year for meals and travel is well-spent.
David Delaney lives in Albert Bridge and closely monitors the local political scene. He can be contacted at [email protected].
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