It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them. -- Psychologist Alfred Adler
In a week when it was announced welfare cases are up an astounding 47 per cent in British Columbia since last year, B.C. New Democratic Party MLAs said they are going to take the 29 per cent pay increase they strongly rejected in 2007.
After an election campaign where the NDP rightly attacked the B.C. Liberals for this province's shameful record of leading Canada in child poverty for five straight years, NDP MLAs will no longer be obligated to donate their wage hike to local charities.
And almost two years to the day when NDP leader Carole James raked B.C. Liberal MLAs over the coals in the Legislature for voting in an "obscene pay increase", she and her colleagues have reversed their position and will accept the salary increase from $76,100 to $98,000 and more.
All of this comes after the NDP caucus attempted in 2007 to imitate King Solomon and show wisdom by proposing to cut the baby in half -- saying they would accept a generous proposed pension plan but reject the wage increase.
A great campaign issue, booted
The alternative, I argued at the time, was to campaign against the entire package proposed by a B.C. Liberal-appointed elitist compensation committee and make it a major issue across the province.
After all, before the pension and pay proposal was hatched every MLA was making almost double the average annual B.C. wage of $41,500 -- and the $76,100 was more than what 90 per cent of British Columbians earned.
And MLAs were previously getting an RRSP contribution of nearly $7,000 a year -- that's over double the B.C. average of $3,000 -- and just 31 per cent of Canadians even have an RRSP.
But NDP MLAs couldn't resist the pension plan and, apparently, can't keep rejecting the salary hike either.
Charities are the big losers
So now they reap the disappointment of the many B.C. charities who collectively received over $485,000 between April 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008.
Sandy Bryce, executive director of Victoria's Mary Manning Centre, which helps child sex-abuse victims, says the NDP decision is "very unfortunate."
"I have no idea why the decision was made and nobody has talked to me about that. Any time there's any reduction in any kind of funding that we receive, it always has a direct impact on the level of services we can provide for children," she told the Vancouver Province.
Carole James and three other Victoria MLAs had been making donations, she said.
The pay and pension issue has now bit the New Democrats in the posterior three different times, first when they agreed to a backroom deal and then reneged under public pressure in 2005, again in 2007 and now with the final chapter.
James herself told the Legislature on May 17, 2007: "The B.C. Liberals have decided they actually don't care what the public thinks. They want that raise, every one of them wants that raise, and they're going to pass this bill."
And what will the public think now that NDP MLAs are doing the same?
But none of this is to say individual MLAs won't continue to give all or part of their salary to worthy charities. Likely some will and others won't, and if their constituents aren't happy it could be an election issue in 2013.
B.C. Liberals greedily jammed NDP
The B.C. Liberals are the scoundrels in this whole episode, refusing to allow any MLAs to opt out of the pension plan and keep their RRSPs or to decline the pay increase unless they gave up any raise permanently, ruthlessly jamming the NDP MLAs into accepting the overall package.
And the B.C. Liberals have managed to make the NDP MLAs the victims for trying to do the right thing while escaping criticism themselves, including Premier Gordon Campbell and his own 54 per cent wage hike -- a whopping $89,000 raise.
But the NDP's high road on MLA pay is now lost and the caucus needs to think a lot harder about how it deals with major public policies if it wants to win in 2013.
Related Tyee stories:
- Huge Pay Raises, the Silent Issue
Libs gave selves big pay hikes, zero to minimum wage earners. But NDP can't complain.
- Spending on B.C. Politicians Explodes
Total cost of MLA compensation soars over 50 per cent since 2001.
- BC Legislator: Nice Gig!
MLAs got full-time pay for nine week session. Gordon Campbell is arranging a raise.
Read more: Politics