Lowest paid MLAs deserve pay hike, says report

The Yukon’s politicians are the worst paid in Canada. And they should get a raise, according to a report tabled in the Yukon legislature this…

The Yukon’s politicians are the worst paid in Canada.

And they should get a raise, according to a report tabled in the Yukon legislature this week.

All territorial MLAs are paid $38,000 annually — the lowest wage in Canadian politics.

The base salary of all MLAs should be bumped to $65,000 annually, says the report, written by former clerk of the assembly Patrick Michael.

The raise would put Yukon politicians fourth last in Canada, in front of Alberta, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

In addition to their base MLA salary, Michael also recommends raising the salaries for ministers and the leader of the Opposition to $35,000, the premier to $50,000 and the third party leader to $15,000.

Salaries for ministers and the premier are actually lower now than in 1979.

And, along with the leader of the opposition and third-party leader, they are less than half the national average.

Wages should also be adjusted every year to match changes in inflation, the report says.

The Yukon was in “a dreadful situation,” but the recommendations will put the territory on the right path, said Michael on Thursday.

“It’s going to be very difficult to make a full recovery all at once,” he said.

“You can’t cure it overnight.”

Finding the right range of pay for politicians is a balancing act.

“You don’t want people running for the money, but you don’t want low pay to be a deterrent for running,” said Michael.

“You don’t want to make it too rich, or too poor. You want people from all walks of life running.”

Telling people in mid-career to take a risk to run for politics, and then to carry around the baggage that comes after a stint in the legislature is difficult when the pay is low, said Michael.

With children to raise and mortgages to pay off, potential candidates have to be reassured their lives won’t be significantly disrupted, he said.

“You could get to a point where the only people running are at the beginning of their careers or retirees at the end of theirs.

“That could set a demographic imbalance in the assembly where there is no middle ground.”

The Member Services Board, a branch of the legislative assembly, commissioned the report in May.

To meet Michael’s recommendation that the report be adopted by January 1, the report would have to be debated and approved during the fall sitting.

Premier Dennis Fentie has not seen the recommendations yet, he said.

But when it comes to the legislature for approval, his caucus will be allowed a free vote, said Fentie.

How much one gets paid as an MLA should not be a factor in the decision to run for office, he added.

“If individuals are discouraged from running because of the low wages, maybe they should rethink why they’d want to enter politics,” said Fentie.

After five years as premier, he doesn’t know how much he is paid.

“I don’t even know what I make,” said Fentie. “I’m not concerned about what I make. I’m not here for the money.”

Wage hikes would cost about $520,000 annually on top of the current cost of $1,040,000, if the recommendations are adopted.

Expense accounts should be set at $12,500 annually and should not be based on the electoral district of a member, says the report.

While other jurisdictions are getting rid of expense accounts, Yukon MLAs are not provided with comparable resources like constituency offices and staff, the report says.

The non-taxable expenses should also be removed from pension calculations, but that would require an amendment to the Legislative Assembly Retirement Allowances Act, which Michael said should be dealt with at the same time as the salary hike.

The all-party agreement to commission the report helped Michael avoid the pitfalls of an issue that often turns into a contentious issue in other provinces, he said.

 “There’s no gain if this is a political battle,” said Michael.

The Liberals agree that politics should be kept out of this debate, said leader Arthur Mitchell.

“We’re moving in the right direction and if all parties support it, it’ll pass,” he said.

“I accept the recommendations and would support a bill.”

The Liberals have had no problem recruiting candidates under the existing salary, but the decision to run is always a balance between desire and compensation, said Mitchell.

“(Pay) has an impact, but so do other issues like raising children or leaving your business,” he said.

“Anything that removes impediments to running in an election is a good thing.”