Tuesday, December 4, 2012

SCANDAL AND REFORM: THE CULTURE OF SELF INTEREST CONTINUES



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"When you’re mindful of small amounts of money,
 the bigger amounts will take care of themselves,” 

Premier Kathy Dunderdale,
March 12, 2012
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The Members' Compensation Review is recommending that provincial politicians put a freeze on any wage increases until the next election – with the exception of an increase to reflect the Consumer Price Index.

The recommendation based on a  MHA’s annual salary of just $95,000 place our poor honorable members way down the list as the 6th best paid in the country.


What is most interesting to the discerning eye is the schedule section where all the extras are listed!

 See the attached statement of members’ benefits from 2010. I’ll try and find something current but this reflects what members really receive (plus expenses like sessional pay)

Skills and credentials have no bearing at all. There are PHDs, accomplished lawyers, teachers, social workers, cab drivers and former nuns in the people’s house. Our Premier's educational and professional credentials are probably the weakest in the legislature – no degree, no diploma, never run a business. This is not reflected in the pay package.

Some might argue that if a senior public servant requires a minimum education level, then so too should our MHA's (or Premier). I am not sure I agree. In a democracy, any one who has the right to vote, should have the right to run for elected office. They are all first amongst equals in the legislature and should be compensated as such. The public decides if they are fit for the job. The public is always right!

The annual salary is a bit misleading because MHA’s receive a lot of perks, additional benefits, committee pay, tax breaks and sessional pay. The comparison with all of that compared would elevate their ranking significantly.

The Members’ Compensation Review Committee held hearings in 2009 and determined that:


 "MHAs in this province in comparison to their counterparts in other provinces and territories places our MHAs at the 3rd highest, taking into account he total level of annual compensation and annual tax free allowances. Adjusting the comparison to include so called “like jurisdictions”, that is, the Atlantic and Prairie Provinces, our MHAs rank 1st among those jurisdictions. It should be noted that in the Green Report in 2007 it was suggested that this “peer group” was an appropriate method or comparison to Newfoundland and Labrador."


MHA’s get paid a basic salary and additional funds when they are appointed to a committee or take on extra duties. If they get appointed to the round table they pick-up another $50,000.

The 2009 report found that:


 "Newfoundland and Labrador senior public employees among the lowest paid of all Canadian jurisdictions. Adjusting the comparison for the same “like jurisdictions” as we did in the case of MHA salaries the Committee found that Newfoundland and Labrador Assistant Deputy Ministers rank last for a starting salary and fourth lowest for a maximum salary."


Our Premier, a recent convert to economic conservatism has taken a "do as I say, not as I do" approach. Salaries in that office have risen 59% since 2003! In 2003, the last of the so-called "wasteful" Liberal administrations, the salary budget for that office was $981,000.


In 2012, the salary budget for that office is $1,670,100. This does not even factor in the sprinkling of quasi-political positions sprinkled throughout Executive Council that might be considered extra staff for the eighth floor.

That may not include the latest reassignment of duties and salary hikes this past fall. What justifies a $700,000 increase in salaries? Is that sustainable? Is it necessary?

What about the politicians? Surely we could have a more slimmer cabinet and less parliamentary assistants? How can the government justify demanding efficiencies from the professional public service when it has not even considered rolling back political salaries and positions? How about the number of MHA's? Do we really need 48?

 How sustainable is the current program of placing political supporters in publicly funded jobs? What is more important to you, front line services in health care and social services or parliamentary secretaries in departments that all ready have ministers?

The Premier said on On Point with David Cochrane that:  “Our primary function is not as an employment agency". Perhaps what she should have said "Our Primary function is to provide employment for our supporters and screw the rest!"

 How many 13 week patronage (small amounts of money) jobs have been extended indefinitely to create a bloated civil service and bump out qualified individuals who have been successful in interviews because they are qualified?

Than there is the issue of corporate donations. As a jurisdiction that  encourages companies to contribute to the political process, one can not help but wonder what donors expect for their investment. Over 40% of the corporate donations raised by the Progressive Conservative Party in 2010 were provided by the province’s construction industry. Why so much? What do they expect in return?

Political donations from companies doing business with government, or hoping too, are strategic investments that they hope will pay off in terms of access to government officials, or favorable policy decisions. This province needs to rethink how political campaigns are funded at the municipal and provincial level.


The issue of members salaries is small in comparison to a review of the cost of the far reaching and tangled patronage system that is alive and well in our province.

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