St. John’s Board of Trade chairman Steve Power speaks to media at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s Monday evening as rows of empty chairs sit behind him. Power was the only presenter at the consultation on the salaries of MHAs. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Should MHAs get a pay raise? What about their pensions, allowances and severance payments?
Those questions were put to the public in St. John’s yesterday evening in a rented hall at the Holiday Inn — but hardly anyone showed up.
A public meeting where residents could have voiced their opinions on the matter was scheduled to last 2 1/2 hours Monday evening at the hotel, but it wrapped up after about 10 minutes.
At one point there were five reporters in attendance (six counting one who was just there to observe), compared to one unnamed observer and two representatives of the St. John’s Board of Trade.
Judge Jacqueline Brazil, chairwoman of the Members’ Compensation Review Committee, did not comment on the proceedings, except to say that it was disappointing so few people chose to attend.
Only the Board of Trade made a presentation, and it focused on public pensions rather than MHA compensation.
However, those two issues are related, said Steve Power, chairman of the board.
He called on MHAs to set an example by making changes to their own pension plans.
“We’d like to see the MHAs lead by example. The St. John’s Board of Trade is very concerned about our total provincial debt and of course the unfunded pension liabilities make up a big portion of that,” said Power.
“This is something we need to deal with, and I think the time to start dealing with it is now. And I think the best place to start dealing with it is on the MHA side.”
As of March 31, 2011, the net provincial debt of Newfoundland and Labrador was about $8.1 billion.
The board points out a significant portion of that money, nearly 60 per cent, is a combined net unfunded liability for the public sector’s pension fund, including those of MHAs.
Unfunded pensions are financially unviable, said Power, and if MHAs start making direct contributions to their own pensions, then it would be a step in the right direction of making the province more financially sound.
“Guaranteed pensions guarantee debt,” he said.
Power was the only speaker during the meeting.
The House of Assembly Ac-countability, Integrity and Administration Act requires MHA compensations to be reviewed at least once every four years. Brazil was appointed by the legislature in April of this year as the sole member of the committee responsible for compiling that review.
Her report is due before December 3, 2012.
There are four public meetings left on Brazil’s schedule: Sept. 26 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Sept. 27 in Corner Brook, Oct. 3 in Grand Falls-Windsor and Oct. 4 in Clarenville.