The Arrogance of Power that Permeates Politics

Salaries are going up for the members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) in the occupied Canadian province of “British Columbia.” CBC News reported that a three-member “independent panel appointed by the premier” has recommended pay hikes that would increase the salary of MLAs 29 percent and that of the premier Gordon Campbell a hefty 53 percent.1 It is curious how the Canadian state media characterizes a panel appointed by the premier as “independent.” To who does the “independent panel” acknowledge their appointment?

The governing BC Liberal Party caucus has approved the salary increases. The increase would amount to $22,000 a year for MLAs, bringing them up to $98,000. For the premier Gordon Campbell, the pay hike would be $65,000, swelling his salary to $186,200 a year.

The “independent panel” also recommended the resumption of a generous pension plan for MLAs, which they would be eligible to receive after six years in government (less than two terms).

Campbell said, “We have to ensure that compensation for MLAs and their families is fair.”

The leader of the official opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), Carole James, rejected this. Said James, “People felt that it wasn’t something reasonable. It wasn’t something that the public would expect. It didn’t pass the test of fairness on behalf of the public.”

Eighteen months ago, on the heels of a public outcry, the NDP also rejected a proposed 15 percent salary increase for BC MLAs. The NDP’s rejectionism must be considered skeptically based on its past history of accepting and bestowing generous salary increases on MLAs.2

Campbell will put to the test NDP politicians’ unwillingness to take home more money. He said there would be a free vote on the proposed increases and that any individual MLA can nix the salary hike — for good.3

Needless to say, politicians feeding at the public trough has met with public disapproval.

Campbell dismissed the negativity: “Taxpayers are never happy, I don’t think, when salaries are dealt with, but it’s something that we have to do if we are to attract good people to public life and not punish people for, you know, becoming a part of public life.”

Imagine that! A salary of $76,000 is punishment for “good people.” What Campbell is, in fact, saying is that “good people” are attracted by money. By Campbell’s reckoning, he must, therefore, be approximately twice as good a person as other MLAs, given that his salary is almost double the MLAs’ salary. By logical extension, those BCers earning less than MLA salaries must be less good. This would be a sizeable chunk of the BC populace since the yearly per capita GDP salary is $41,424 (2006 BC Stats). Apparently, those people who would comprise the political class must be a special pedigree of human being.4

Moreover, according to Campbell, “[T]he sacrifices [politicians] make and their families make is often not recognized.”

How, then, does Campbell view the sacrifices of the average worker? It seems that their sacrifices were over-estimated and over-paid. Therefore, his government undertook to remediate this mistake by reducing the minimum wage by $2 per hour, throwing out collective bargaining agreements, retroactively rolling back wages, and threatening to jail union leaders who would strike against the anti-worker government edicts.5

The tacit policy of the BC Liberal Party: those BCers who are “good people” can eat cake at the government coffers. The rest will just have to work more on improving their goodness.

  1. Liberal MLAs endorse pay raises,” CBC News, 3 May 2007 []
  2. Earlier in Campbell’s premiership, it seems “good people” were overly compensated. Part of Campbell’s early electoral strategy was the promise to reduce MLA salaries. Thus, there was a 5 percent reduction to the $72,100 base salary in 2002 that remained in place until 31 March 2005. Campbell wound up with a 3.1 percent cut to his gross salary. []
  3. Miro Cernetig, “Liberal caucus approves MLA pay hikes: Ruling party decides to accept 29% raise; NDP disagrees,” Vancouver Sun, 3 May 2007. []
  4. Marc Lee, “New Perspectives on Income Inequality in BC,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, December 2004. The exceptionalness of upper income classes is becoming more so, as evidenced by the trend through the 1990s into the early part of the twenty-first century that has been toward a greater concentration of income in the upper income levels of BC society. []
  5. Kim Petersen, “The Struggle to Restore the Dignity of Labor,” Dissident Voice, 22 October 2005. []
Kim Petersen is an independent writer and former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.