Premier Darrell Pasloski says severance pay for MLAs is “absolutely not a consideration” when it comes to deciding when to hold a territorial election.
Last week, the News reported that severance pay for first-term MLAs who are not re-elected abruptly doubled earlier this month, because the coming territorial election will not be held within exactly five years of the previous election, which took place on Oct. 11, 2011.
Yukon legislation dictates that MLAs who serve five years or less are entitled to 25 per cent of their yearly income in severance. Those who serve between five and eight years are entitled to 50 per cent, and those who serve longer than eight are eligible for a full year’s earnings.
Because of the late timing of this year’s election, first-term MLAs will now receive half their annual income in severance if they’re not re-elected — roughly $38,000 for regular MLAs, $58,000 for ministers and $67,000 for the premier. Only first-term MLAs who are Yukon government employees on a leave of absence and who return to their government jobs after leaving the house do not receive severance.
“(In) setting the election date, severance for MLAs was absolutely not a consideration,” Pasloski told the News on Tuesday.
“There are considerations, such as a royal visit, (that are) a consideration … in regards to timing of an election,” he added. Royal visits — like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s trip to the Yukon this week — typically do not occur during election campaigns.
Pasloski also said the 2007 change to the Legislative Assembly Act that set out the current severance formula was the result of a study performed by a third party hired by the legislative assembly.
The third party made recommendations to the members’ services board, an all-party committee of MLAs.
That means the Yukon Party government didn’t unilaterally make changes to severance pay, Pasloski said.
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said last week that he would change the legislation if the Liberals form the next government, to make severance pay increase more gradually.
But NDP Leader Liz Hanson said this week that she was “frankly surprised” by Silver’s promise.
“Politicians, I don’t think, should ever get involved in the discussion about pay for political office or any of that,” she said, adding that such changes should always be based on independent recommendations.
But she did suggest that having fixed election dates could solve the problem.
“That’s what we’ve proposed as part of our democratic reform motions over the years and debates that we’ve had in the house,” she said. “Do fixed dates. Take the gaming out of it.”
Hanson also said that elected officials need to be well paid to attract people from different backgrounds.
“We don’t want to just have upper-middle-class, independently wealthy people running,” she said. “We want to have a mix, a diverse mix of people who are able to run and not be financially penalized.”
The basic salary for Yukon MLAs is $75,790, among the lowest in the country.
But Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees’ Union, believes MLAs make the choice to run for office, and many of them can return to their previous careers when their political lives end.
“That’s a life decision,” he said. “I was a nurse before I got elected to this position. In my own circumstance, if it was all about money and things like that, I would have stayed in nursing.”
In contrast to MLAs, Yukon government employees who are laid off are entitled to severance worth two weeks’ pay for the first year of employment and one week’s pay for each subsequent year, to a maximum of 30 weeks.
A civil servant who was laid off after five years, therefore, would receive six weeks’ worth of pay in severance.
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org