There’s an old saying that being elected to a democratic parliament is the kind of job all working class parents want for their children – it’s indoors, clean, no heavy lifting, well paid with generous expenses and a dream quality pension after six years of service.
In British Columbia that’s an average four-year term after a first MLA election win plus at least a two-year stint after a second. If they get turfed after their first session in the big house, they do not go home destitute. Taxpayers ease the humiliation of early public defeat with a “career retraining allowance” which is may be better understood as “severance pay” and amounts to 15 months’ pay, based on the MLA’s salary – which is a couple of hundred dollars short of $106,000 a year.
If MLAs make it past the six-year pensionable service requirement, they are also eligible for the 15-month “career retraining allowance” totaling $132,251 – if they remain unemployed for 15 months after they are defeated or resign. Should they find new jobs within the 15 months, the retraining allowance is adjusted down or up depending on what the new job pays.
Jordan Bateman, BC director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, has noted in press, TV and radio interviews that if a defeated or retiring politician gets a new job within the 15-month time frame but at a lower salary than the MLA stipend, taxpayers will top it up to the full retraining allowance for 15-months. For example, if a new job pays $90,000, that amount would be topped up to match the “career retraining allowance” of $132,241.
Members of the Legislature are usually quick to point out their gold-plated basic pension is not free; that they have regular payments deducted from their pay cheques.
It’s a true, but flimsy defence. In 1996, the then-NDP government introduced legislation guaranteeing that every dollar put into the pension plan by an MLA would be matched by a dollar from the government (read: taxpayers). In 2007, the first Liberal government in 56 years changed that formula to four taxpayer dollars for every dollar from an MLA. The guaranteed annual cost of living adjustment date was set – significantly or accidentally – April 1. All the MLAs defeated or simply retiring on May 9, the date of the last election, received a rich golden handshake as they left the buildings. And it wasn’t fool’s gold. Or maybe it was!
The new NDP government lost the May election in terms of popular vote and the number of seats won, but was boosted from second to first when three woe-begotten Greens joined up to make the NDP winners. No cash was involved in the transfer of votes; just “future considerations”, providing the Greens behaved appropriately and the NDP treated them with inclusive respect on matters of NDP importance.
The first partnership test is now before the Legislature in the form of legislation designed to banish corporate or big union election donations to political parties of their choice and sharply curtail maximum individual donations.
All three parties agreed something had to be done and they seemed to agree that a first step would be to implement a program of public and political party input organized by the chief electoral officer. The NDP, at the moment of truth, decided differently and introduced legislation which would confine debate to the Legislature leading to a decision made without participation from taxpayers who will pay the multi-million public funding of political party election campaigns when it becomes law.
While awaiting passage of the bill, Liberals and NDP will continue to solicit and accept ever larger donations from friends – because it isn’t yet illegal to do so. The two major players seem to be agreeing it is morally wrong to raise funds this way – but only if there is a law saying so. No law, no moral issues? That is not inspiring philosophy.
Andrew Weaver doesn’t belong to the big money group. Never has. He has expressed concern over the Liberal apparatus for raising funds and the NDP failure to call for the public input he had hoped for before presenting a new, extremely expensive mechanism for funding political parties from the public purse.
The question remains as to how strong his principles will be as the bill is debated and which way his vote will go if it gets to final reading without amendment. Will he vote for taxpayer funding which he “did not bring to” the discussion table? Will he demand public hearings and input before he grants the NDP passage? Will principle prevail?
Or will he punch the power button he so obviously enjoys holding and command the NDP to “fade to black?”
Stay tuned, we live in interesting times.
For all the details on taxpayers’ generosity check: