Perhaps we should be thanking Health Minister Jerome Kennedy for his forward-looking thinking, for his stalwart defence of this concept of the differential paycheque.
It’s something that was introduced in 2008, when the provincial government cut a special deal with the province’s pathologists and some other medical specialties. The problem of the day was that pathologists were revolting — well, actually, no, they weren’t revolting. They were departing, leaving, voting with their feet. Fed up with overwork, morale problems and other systemic issues, they were looking at greener pastures.
So, the provincial government gravy-ed them up, offering the medical specialists money that other specialists didn’t get.
Getting a reaction
Now, the other specialists are revolting in turn, saying they feel the province has no respect for them and their hard work. And the provincial government seems keen to push that point home by publically trashing and belittling doctors who have waited two years for their pay to catch up, and are now being told to keep waiting, presumably because their work just doesn’t matter as much as the pathologists’ does. There aren’t many other ways to describe it.
But Kennedy’s defence of the split salary may well have some merit. After all, most employees in this province (those who aren’t employed by a national organization like Canada Post or the CBC) are well familiar with the fact that workers who stay here are paid less than they would be almost anywhere else in the country. Two — or more — tiers of pay is a way of life here.
So, perhaps it should be embraced, right on up the line and into Confederation Building.
Think about this: pathologists got a healthy pay increase because other provinces wanted to spirit them away.
Do any other provinces want our cabinet ministers?
Seriously, in any other province, would many of them even be in a cabinet?
So why on Earth are we paying so much to keep our cabinet members in the style to which they have become accustomed?
And more to the point, why on Earth are we paying all of them the same amount?
Every member of the Williams cabinet gets the same $54,072 top-up on their salary for being a member of the cabinet. Not only that, but each gets an office budget for immediate support staff and expenses that ranges anywhere from $276,000 a year to $530,000 a year. Fact is, though, cabinet responsibilities clearly vary.
Big and small
The province’s minister of transportation and works oversees 1,397 employees and a budget of
$61.9 million: the minister gets the $54,072 top-up and $293,600 in office expenses.
Then, there’s the ministers of Labrador affairs and aboriginal affairs: John Hickey and Patty Pottle each get the $54,072 top-up, and between them, have an annual budget of $660,400 for office expenses and extras. Yet the twin departments have just 31 staff (15 of those positions are executive and support staff for the ministers) and an annual budget to oversee of just $4.9 million.
That’s just bad economics: with a fraction of the work responsibilities, they should get a fraction of the pay. That is, of course, is a version of the argument that Kennedy was making with regard to Dr. Julia Trahey, when he trotted out her salary to the public “for clarity’s sake.”
If you based pay and perks on the financial heft of the department, if the minister of transportation gets $54,072 and $263,600 for expenses, Pottle and Hickey, with a department roughly four per cent of the size of the Transportation Department, should each get additional pay of $2,162.88 per year, and office expenses of about $10,500.
And think of the savings: implementing differential pay over just those three departments would save $743,000 each and every year — money that could go into something like, I don’t know, doctors’ salaries.
The math gets even wilder if you factor in the really big departments. If you were to use the Department of Education’s budget as the baseline, it would be a $1.27-billion budget. Health? $2.69 billion. Compare that to a responsibility of two (count ’em — two) cabinet ministers for a measly $4.9 million, and the perks would suddenly be microscopic.
Mirror the cost reductions into other small or vestigial provincial departments — like Business and Intergovernmental Affairs — and you could make even more spectacular savings. And if the cabinet ministers rankle at the cuts, well, we could just use the Kennedy formula, and replace them.
All cabinet jobs aren’t created equal, so maybe their pay and expenses shouldn’t be, either.
Let’s just see how that would fly at the cabinet table — perhaps Kennedy would be willing to explain the fairness of a pay differential to the people he sits with, instead of the people he belittles.
Certainly, a body as smart as a provincial cabinet would easily understand and joyfully embrace what they expect the province’s medical specialists to live with.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.