Paying politicians

Brian
Brian Jones
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It will never happen, but one way to instantly improve politics across Canada would be to set politicians' pay at the average salary of their constituents.

When honourable members rose in the House of Commons, or the House of Assembly, to opine on tax rates, government spending, deficit slashing, pensions, etc., their opinions would likely be a lot more "representative" if their pay stubs reflected a salary of, say, $40,000 rather than $150,000.

It will never happen, but one way to instantly improve politics across Canada would be to set politicians' pay at the average salary of their constituents.

When honourable members rose in the House of Commons, or the House of Assembly, to opine on tax rates, government spending, deficit slashing, pensions, etc., their opinions would likely be a lot more "representative" if their pay stubs reflected a salary of, say, $40,000 rather than $150,000.

It's easy to impose a tax increase when you earn three or four times as much money as the vast majority of people who will pay it.

It's easy to argue for public spending cutbacks when very few, if any, of those cuts will affect you personally.

Politicians, because they are paid so much more than the average Canadian, are insulated from the effects of their actions. If sales taxes or public spending cuts cause hardship to millions of Canadians, well, just call it responsible leadership that is willing to make "hard decisions."

Unpopular pay

Toss a crumpled ballot into a crowd of voters and you're bound to hit someone who will say politicians are obscenely overpaid. And yet, it is often stated that a solution to the current political malaise is to pay politicians more, not less.

Higher pay, the argument goes, would attract higher-quality candidates.

There are hundreds of fallacies about this approach, and most of them sit in a legislature near you. But let's examine just two of the more obvious falsehoods.

First, the majority of federal and provincial politicians - with the possible exception of lawyers and business people - win an instant pay raise upon election. Teachers do not earn as much as MPs. Nurses do not earn as much as cabinet ministers. Stephen Harper earns more as prime minister than he did as Preston Manning's flack. Despite these automatic pay hikes, there is no observable rise in competence or quality.

Second, higher pay for politicians would merely reinforce the worst contradiction that plagues democratic systems of government: people who desire power and status are more likely to be attracted to a career in politics.

But ambition for power and status is precisely the characteristic we don't want in politicians. (For instance, see: Brian Tobin; Jim Walsh.) Too often, people with no discernible quality attain prominent positions (see: Brian Tobin; Jason Kenney). Paying politicians higher salaries would only reinforce this problematic contradiction.

Cheque change

Premier Danny Williams often receives praise for not taking a salary.

It is a superficial stunt that other politicians have done before. If you don't think about it too strenuously, it can seem selfless rather than self-serving.

The best comment about it was made some years ago by a Telegram reader who wrote in a letter to the editor that he would have been more impressed if Williams had set aside his personal fortune - rather than his salary - and tried to live on his premier's paycheque alone, which would at least give him a better idea about how most people lived.

You could take it one step further and suggest Williams try to live on the average salary of his constituents, but then, in relative terms, you may as well ask the premier to hit Water Street as a panhandler.

The large financial gap between the governed and their governors has spurred resentment among many taxpayers/citizens, but the issue is more extensive than the heft of paycheques (and pensions) collected by MPs and MHAs.

The federal budget will probably win some applause for freezing politicians' salaries. What also needs to be frozen - and cut back - is the arrogance, condescension, sense of superiority and bullying that is too common among our democratically elected representatives.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: House of Commons, The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada, Water Street

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Recent comments

  • Jerome
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Great article....so true.

  • July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Brian, I really enjoyed reading this. Good stuff.

  • R
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    There is a level of spending necessary to live. It could be 20,000 for food, heat, clothes and rent. It could be 40,000 for food, heat, clothes, mortgage, car and entertainment. The problem is when you make more than necessary for your lifestyle. That's when you lose sight of the value of a dollar. The MHA's make double what should be necessary for a comfortable life. Some also get a pension. $500 added to their taxes is not the same as $500 added to the taxes on a salary of $20,000. However would a MHA making $20,000 know what he is doing? Probably just as well as the ones we have now making $100,000. Regarding the arrogance, some are friendly and some are not. I don't know where they get the opinion they are above everybody else i.e. Walsh and Rideout

  • donkey ditchs
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    All the people that were going in to change the world soon fell right into place. These guys get their jobs and can write up their own job descriptions without any explantion or any infomation given.
    Now I thought we were getting the best cannidates we could afford to get and not getting the best they could afford to give in return. But what must be attracting them is not how much money they can make but how much more they can squeeze out.
    I suppose thats why we can get any answers into anything. This government takes pride in destroying any other position other than their own and thats why every little thing is such a big deal. How much real opposition to we have left, let alone ailinating the cbc for asking them serious, tough questions, on a daily about their job that effects everyone.
    Remember, It only takes one whale leader to guide the rest herd the wrong way and upon to the beach. And I guess thats ok if you can afford to have a good marine biologist on stand by.
    Like the MHA spending scandal, that took way too long for a two week sentence because they were sorry that they were caught. The ends doesn't justify the means, no matter what the process was.
    I don't know what to think in this crazy, moxed up world, but I do know that felix Collins, as skipper, could give republic of doyle a run for its money if they ever remade Skipper & Company. He'd do it justice!

  • Corey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Sometimes, when I read Mr. Jones' columns each week, I often ask myself...what did Premier Williams do that prompts Mr. Jones to constantly slag the Premier every week in his columns? What, did the Premier inadvertantly snub you at one time or another? Or is that the mere fact that you just can't stomach it that Danny is our premier & you'd rather see someone else instead? What, does Danny make too much money for your liking? So what? Danny does donate his salary to charity like you mentioned, it is not a superficial stunt as you like to put it. Whatever, I dunno I guess...keep up the good work Danny, regardless of what some of you regular cynics think.

  • Calvin
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    You can look at it two ways. If Williams (for example) was forced to live on the average family income in order to be premier, I admit he would probably give up the job. I would be willing to bet that 95% of politicians would. He has made his millions and doesnt need the taxpayers money to enjoy his lifestyle. However, if you start paying our elected officials $40 000 a year, you will have a bunch of hillbilly's running the province and the country. It takes educated, ambitious individuals to govern a population, and if those same individuals worked in the private sector they would be payed handsomely for their abilities. Of course we could just count ourselves lucky that we have not fallen under a dictator who takes all of our money.

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Excellent article ------ The old saying ---throw your hat in the ring ---maybe all that is required to become a politician .That and egos that seem to bypass the average person . Why is it that most jobs require a list of qualifications when all a politician has to have is enough financial backing and the charisma of Danny Williams .

  • Jerome
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Great article....so true.

  • July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Brian, I really enjoyed reading this. Good stuff.

  • R
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    There is a level of spending necessary to live. It could be 20,000 for food, heat, clothes and rent. It could be 40,000 for food, heat, clothes, mortgage, car and entertainment. The problem is when you make more than necessary for your lifestyle. That's when you lose sight of the value of a dollar. The MHA's make double what should be necessary for a comfortable life. Some also get a pension. $500 added to their taxes is not the same as $500 added to the taxes on a salary of $20,000. However would a MHA making $20,000 know what he is doing? Probably just as well as the ones we have now making $100,000. Regarding the arrogance, some are friendly and some are not. I don't know where they get the opinion they are above everybody else i.e. Walsh and Rideout

  • donkey ditchs
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    All the people that were going in to change the world soon fell right into place. These guys get their jobs and can write up their own job descriptions without any explantion or any infomation given.
    Now I thought we were getting the best cannidates we could afford to get and not getting the best they could afford to give in return. But what must be attracting them is not how much money they can make but how much more they can squeeze out.
    I suppose thats why we can get any answers into anything. This government takes pride in destroying any other position other than their own and thats why every little thing is such a big deal. How much real opposition to we have left, let alone ailinating the cbc for asking them serious, tough questions, on a daily about their job that effects everyone.
    Remember, It only takes one whale leader to guide the rest herd the wrong way and upon to the beach. And I guess thats ok if you can afford to have a good marine biologist on stand by.
    Like the MHA spending scandal, that took way too long for a two week sentence because they were sorry that they were caught. The ends doesn't justify the means, no matter what the process was.
    I don't know what to think in this crazy, moxed up world, but I do know that felix Collins, as skipper, could give republic of doyle a run for its money if they ever remade Skipper & Company. He'd do it justice!

  • Corey
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Sometimes, when I read Mr. Jones' columns each week, I often ask myself...what did Premier Williams do that prompts Mr. Jones to constantly slag the Premier every week in his columns? What, did the Premier inadvertantly snub you at one time or another? Or is that the mere fact that you just can't stomach it that Danny is our premier & you'd rather see someone else instead? What, does Danny make too much money for your liking? So what? Danny does donate his salary to charity like you mentioned, it is not a superficial stunt as you like to put it. Whatever, I dunno I guess...keep up the good work Danny, regardless of what some of you regular cynics think.

  • Calvin
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    You can look at it two ways. If Williams (for example) was forced to live on the average family income in order to be premier, I admit he would probably give up the job. I would be willing to bet that 95% of politicians would. He has made his millions and doesnt need the taxpayers money to enjoy his lifestyle. However, if you start paying our elected officials $40 000 a year, you will have a bunch of hillbilly's running the province and the country. It takes educated, ambitious individuals to govern a population, and if those same individuals worked in the private sector they would be payed handsomely for their abilities. Of course we could just count ourselves lucky that we have not fallen under a dictator who takes all of our money.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    Excellent article ------ The old saying ---throw your hat in the ring ---maybe all that is required to become a politician .That and egos that seem to bypass the average person . Why is it that most jobs require a list of qualifications when all a politician has to have is enough financial backing and the charisma of Danny Williams .