Fewer things are more predictable than the howls of outrage that follow any time politicians discuss matters of their own compensation.
This is, in part, understandable. Politicians are paid through tax dollars and they have the unique good fortune in many cases to be able to vote for their own raises. You and I can’t do that. Must be nice.
Whitehorse city council had been scheduled to vote on whether to boost its own pay this past week, but council punted the matter back to staff. If the new raise goes ahead, the mayor’s salary will jump from $88,000 to $100,100. Councillors will earn $24,300, up from $21,000.
The reason they are doing this is because of federal income tax changes to rules that once allowed council members to claim one third of their income as expenses. Council pay could become fully taxable, which means the members will take a major hit if the rate of pay doesn’t go up.
Council delayed the vote ostensibly because the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is attempting to get legislation repealed.
This is fortunate for mayor and council, given the backlash the bylaw triggered. Because of course the facts don’t really matter here. We hate politicians and so we must go ballistic over what is in reality a minor piece of housekeeping.
“What BS,” wrote one reader on our Facebook page. “How about the rest of the small business owners, doctors, professionals, self-employed and employed people? They don’t have the luxury to write themselves a raise to cover the closing of new tax loopholes. Total fraud and scam at the expense of taxpayers.”
First of all, the agenda is published in advance and the bylaw is voted on at two separate public meetings you can attend. Council debates a motion on a matter they are legally empowered to legislate on. They vote. This is not fraud.
Even if the bylaw eventually passes, it would not apply until after the next municipal election. There is no guarantee current council members would ever see this new money, which in any case would go to cover the increased income taxes members would owe.
Second, it was probably dumb for the federal government to extend a juicy tax break to politicians in the first place. The measure dates back to the 1940s and it was intended to cover incidental expenses, without all that messy reporting and reimbursement. The federal government scrapped the measure in the 2017 budget. Provinces used to offer their own versions of the credit, but have been phasing them out for years.
So this is just the city rolling with the times. Each jurisdiction should just pay politicians what they deem appropriate, without federal tax money pointlessly subsidizing the cost of paying local lawmakers.
Thirdly, and this is important, the move would cost the city $35,000 per year. No, it’s not nothing, but it’s damn close to nothing. The city’s projected operating budget for 2018 is $76.4 million. $35,000 is barely a rounding error.
The unhinged blowback to this vote illustrates why council, for the most part, earns its money. Councillors have day jobs to work, then they have to spend hours fielding constituent complaints, while studying for upcoming votes and sitting on a myriad of committees. All this while getting called all sorts of names by some guy who thinks public transit is communism.
The mayor’s salary is admittedly juicier, and with the raise, it crosses the psychological barrier of $100,000. But it is a full time job that combines politics, administration and cheerleading. For the current mayor, that means wearing a suit, which is about as comfortable as wearing a burlap sack cinched at the waist with a length of rope. That’s gotta be worth at least 10 per cent.
Finally, we really do not want elective office to be the exclusive domain of people who can afford to put in long hours for cheap or free. The wealthy do just fine in terms of political representation. It needs to be feasible for others to run for office.
And remember, deputy ministers in the Yukon government, most of whom you have never heard of, can earn more than double what the mayor takes home. And you don’t even have the ability to vote those people out of office. If you’re really mad about what council is proposing here, there’s plenty of time to plan your own run for office or to urge your fellow Whitehorse residents to vote the current lot out on their butts next fall.
Governments make bad decisions all the time. You are entitled to get angry about them. You should get angry about them. But you should also keep things in perspective. The size of council’s proposed pay hike, as well as its rationale, do not amount to a reason to storm the Bastille.
And, it’s important to pay attention to the basic details of a policy you don’t like. Just beaking off about a headline you saw on Facebook doesn’t cut it. Democratic life requires some work on the part of its citizens, and yes, that includes you.
Contact Chris Windeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org