Gracelessness has been a hallmark of the Campbell government as evidenced by what Government House Leader Mike de Jong said when he introduced Bill 19 on November 21; the legislation that repealed the money-grabbing Bill 17:
"However, in light of the Leader of the Opposition's sudden change of position on Friday on behalf of her caucus, clearly the conditions of bipartisan support for Bill 17 no longer exist. It, therefore, cannot and will not take effect."
"Further, the unreliability of the opposition leader's positions on this matter, in the government's view, precludes any possibility of it being dealt with further in a truly nonpartisan manner. Accordingly, all members of the chamber should know that the government intends to take no further steps to examine either the salary, pension or constituency office support issues and that passage of this Bill 19 will end this discussion and we will move on to other issues."
On November 19th, NDP Leader Carole James said that she and her caucus made a mistake. She repeated her apology on subsequent days, including during a second reading debate on Bill 19. No one on the government side would admit that a mistake was made; instead, de Jong's stream of venom turned the botched attempt to rob the public purse into a partisan issue.
Campbell, de Jong and the other members on the government benches could have made it a nonpartisan issue by simply agreeing that it was a mistake not to consult the public. They didn't do that, which makes a bad situation worse for the government members. It is particularly bad for Gordon Campbell, since James' apology stands in sharp contrast to his refusal to admit to a mistake.
A sideshow during the brief debate on Bill 19 was an emotional rant from Lorne Mayencourt, the only MLA to vote against repealing the money grab. He argued that his pay increase worked out to only $11 per week.
Mathematical and financial skills like that may cast some light on why he previously experienced bankruptcy. He argued that MLAs base pay was not $75,400, but rather the sum of that plus the employer's (public's) contribution to his RRSP. Finally, he compared his net of RRSP contribution position, after matching the employer's contribution, with what his net of gold plated pension plan contribution would be.
Spaceship to planet Mayencourt: your constituents would love to buy a 65 percent of best three years defined benefit pension plan which is fully vested after 12 years for less than $100,000. Mayencourt couldn't or wouldn't grasp that the pension grab was to be made at a cost to the MLAs that is less than the plan would pay in benefits in under two years. Guess who was to finance the shortfall.
Mayencourt also revealed details about the current allowance paid to MLAs for the operation of their constituency offices. He bemoaned the fact that they receive "just" $84,000 to pay their staff and cover incidental expenses. He failed to mention that the office rent is fully paid by the taxpayers, as is the use of a cell phone and one of those infamous Blackberries. A lot of small business people would like to have it so rough.
Fill the info void
While Mayencourt may be criticized, at least he had the guts to say what he thought. The NDP's Harry Lalli didn't appear for the vote on Bill 19, but told Global TV that he opposed it.
The scraps of information about how MLAs are paid and what they receive for operating their constituency offices reveal the only good feature of Bill 17; it would have specified all of that for the public to see in a schedule to the bill.
Currently, information on what MLAs receive can only be found in the Public Accounts published in June for the fiscal year ending the previous March 31st and then the information is aggregated in a manner that is almost impossible to comprehend.
The government or legislative website should include the MLA base pay, bonuses for each position, benefits, pay indexing formula, constituency allowance and any other details paid to or for elected officials at public expense.
If the government refuses to fill that information void, the opposition could take another small step towards forgiveness on Bill 17 by publishing that information on its website. Just as the public had a right to know about Bill 17 before it was rushed into law, it has a right to know the full details of the current MLA compensation scheme.
Write to suffering MLAs
Greed and stupidity are not confined to one political party. Opting out as a voter doesn't solve the problem; it is only by being active and applying political pressure that some politicians admit to mistakes while others refuse to learn.
Political analyst David Schreck publishes the online journal Strategic Thoughts where a version of this appeared.