EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

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A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give hefty raises to senior management, at a cost to taxpayers in the $10,000s, they voted to save less than $5,000 of the city’s money by declining raises for councillors and are seemingly expecting a cookie.

Spend a lot on people already making good livings during a pandemic if you want, but don’t virtue signal by declining raises and expect votes out of it.

The cold, hard truth is limiting councillor pay is just about the most anti-democratic thing council could do short of holding a coup.

With council salaries at a paltry $36,901 for next term, the sitting councillors can rest easy knowing those in society who aren’t independently wealthy likely won’t be able to make the sacrifices necessary to run for office.

City council, after all, isn’t supposed to be a full-time job. That’s easy to say — likely even easy to believe — if you’re, say, a practicing lawyer or a real estate agent or the executive director of an industry organization, but for the folks in this city who earn minimum wage it really isn’t that far off what one might earn through their 9-to-5 job. Let’s not forget that someone working 40 hours per week at the minimum wage, $13.71, would earn just $28,516.80 before taxes in a year.

Whether council wants to admit it or not, raising that number to say, $45,000 a year, would lead a lot more people to seriously consider running for office.

Participation in democracy is a good thing right? Of course. Unless you’re the ones benefiting from that lack of participation.

All that though, is but an attempt to misdirect the public from the fact that in the midst of a global pandemic with private industry struggling, unemployment up and a myriad of other social and economic problems manifesting, Whitehorse city council felt some of the city’s highest-paid employees weren’t paid enough.

After all, they haven’t had a raise since 2018 and these employees aren’t part of the collective bargaining unit.

How can you expect the director of strategic communications to exist on, with a retroactive raise — yes, retroactive — of 2.6 per cent, a mere $102,191 to $115,139 annually? Fear not, citizens, for that brave civil servant will be earning $104,858 to $118,134 by the end of 2020.

As an aside, the notion that any communications from a municipality should be considered “strategic” is as Orwellian as it is dumb. Tell the truth and don’t lie; that should be it.

The real kicker, and insult to the intelligence of taxpayers, is the notion that salaries were not competitive before. The City of Whitehorse, council was told, simply isn’t paying market rates and as a certain populist politician might say, Outside isn’t “sending their best.”

In the private sector, there is an understanding that part of the deal is people want to live here. Jobs pay less, housing costs more, but the mountains are pretty. Apparently, these management types are so devoid of personality that the Yukon perks aren’t doing it.

Luckily there is a simple solution — let everyone reapply for their jobs.

If, in fact, we aren’t attracting the best candidates, the obvious solution is to fire all the management staff (after all, they’re underpaid so they can’t possibly be any good) and open up all the positions for new applicants.

Let the incumbents reapply, and if they’re hired, pay them a market rate. If the incumbents are, in fact, not up to snuff, then the city isn’t overpaying for subpar talent. But if the staff are good at what they do — and they likely are — then they get the raises that apparently they deserve and taxpayers can take comfort in knowing council and administration did their due diligence.

Heck, even use one of those fancy evaluation formulas to account for the years and years of institutional memory on the chopping block if you aren’t super keen on plunging the city backwards.

Council making the brave step to curtail their own meagre side-hustle compensation cannot distract the electorate from the fact these same individuals voted to give raises to some of the highest-paid people in the entire territory during a global pandemic.

Ultimately, though, does any of this really matter?

Uncle Justin will just cut us a bigger cheque after all, but if council wants to virtue signal, voters can send that signal right back during the next election.

We don’t get to control anything directly, save who we send to sit on council. We owe it to ourselves to make sure we exercise that control and hold our elected officials accountable, especially when they try to pull the wool over our eyes, and help the rich get richer while limiting access to democracy.

Saving pennies after spending dollars shouldn’t be seen as anything other than pandering.

(JHH)

CoronavirusWhitehorse city council

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