RM Issue #031115
November 14, 2003
MLAs get to write their own cheques
(note: probably an invalid link for this story, as the contents change with each new eolumn)
By FRANK LANDRY -- Winnipeg Sun
It's good work if you can get it. You generally set your own hours, you only get a job performance review every four years or so and now you're allowed to give yourself a raise.
Welcome to the world of provincial politics.
For the first time in almost a decade, members of the Legislative Assembly will decide how much they're paid. Speaker George Hickes this week announced a retired bureaucrat -- Earl Backman -- has been hired to offer recommendations on how much money MLAs should get.
"I am confident that Mr. Backman will conduct a review that is independent, fair and reasonable," Hickes said when making the announcement.
Trouble is, Backman doesn't have a final say in the matter. It's politicians like Premier Gary Doer, Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard and Tory Leader Stuart Murray who do. The real cynic would say that's on par with putting a fox in charge of the henhouse. Even Backman admits it's a bit of a tricky situation, but one, he suggested, impossible to avoid.
"They are the ultimate authority in Manitoba and they have to vote on something," said Backman, the former chief executive officer for the Brandon Regional Health Authority.
"The way I interpret this is that they are attempting, as best as they can, to de-politicize it as much as possible. You can't escape the fact everything that happens in this province still has to come down to a vote of the legislature."
Under new provincial legislation, after each election a commissioner must be appointed to review MLA pay, allowances, constituency resources and retirement benefits.
Backman, who's being paid a whopping $175 an hour, has six months to do the job. In April, he's expected to give his recommendations to a group called the Legislative Assembly Management Commission. The commission, which is made up of MLAs, forwards those recommendations to the House, where they are voted on.
They can be adopted or rejected in whole by the 57-member assembly. If our politicians don't like what Backman's proposing, he's forced to redraft his recommendations so they are more to the liking of the MLAs. Then there's another vote.
Really, this is all a smoke and mirrors scheme designed to give the impression the salaries and benefits of our elected officials are being set by an impartial third party.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
Under the old, more objective scheme, salary increases were automatically tied to Manitoba's average industrial wage. If Manitobans were making 2% more, MLAs made 2% more.
This year, for example, the base wage of an MLA increased to $65,535 from $64,250. That's a boost of 2%. It's a fair raise, based on the performance of the economy.
Cabinet ministers are making $94,536 this year. Doer is raking in $111,932. Again, those are probably reasonable salaries, based on the power and responsibilities they carry. There's no need to change the rules.
Besides MLAs, there are few Manitobans who have any say over how much money they make. It just doesn't work that way.
And it shouldn't work that way over on Broadway, either.
Frank Landry is the Sun's legislature reporter.
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