Pensions and other perks

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It is an oft-quoted line from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, a single sentence that was striking in its call to public service: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

But our public service may not be what it once was — and, it seems, even at its highest levels, there are a healthy number of people who are concerned about what the province is going to do for them.

In a thorough and well-thought-out examination of the pay and benefits received by this province’s MHAs, as conducted by Judge Jacqueline Brazil, there was this jarring paragraph outlining the opinion of 27 MHAs who met with her in private: “In light of the challenges faced by MHAs, including the long work hours, the necessary but constant scrutiny from the media and the public, and the lack of public respect that this office often attracts, a good pension plan may be a major factor for those considering running for public office,” she wrote. “Many of the MHAs who met with me maintained that it was a factor they considered when deciding whether or not to seek election.”

It is a factor that carries a heavy cost. Right now, the unfunded liability in this province solely to fund the pensions of retired MHAs stands at $81 million. And whether the entitled like it or not, it’s high time the province’s gold-plated pensions for MHAs be reviewed and changed, a review Brazil has requested be done.

The judge also recommends that pay rates for MHAs be frozen for this year, and only increase by the cost of living over the next few years.

“All spoke of the need to attract and retain qualified people to public office, and all were of the opinion that the long hours, the onerous responsibility and the public scrutiny warranted the salary. They felt that compensation for the privilege of serving as an elected official should be competitive, and the benefits offered to potential candidates should be worth the effort.”

You could argue that it is already. At $95,357 a year, the pay is certainly competitive (in fact, it’s at the very top compared to the pay for members from comparable-sized provinces, including Saskatchewan and the other Atlantic provinces). It’s especially so, as only one-quarter of the province’s MHAs actually receive that amount.

“Presently, 36 of our 48 MHAs receive extra remuneration for serving in other capacities such as ministers, parliamentary assistants or party whips,” Brazil writes.

In other words, only 12 MHAs — 25 per cent — actually receive the job’s base salary of $95,357.

Everyone else gets more, sometimes substantially more.

“Section 12 of the Act sets out the various positions within the House, including Speaker, Deputy Speaker, leader of the Official Opposition and party whip. There are 11 such positions and the compensation for each ranges from $10,333 per year to $54,072 per year. The premier receives an added salary of $74,824, ministers receive an added salary of $54,072 and parliamentary assistants and legislative assistants receive an added salary of $27,033.”

The province’s MHAs should receive competitive salaries and benefits — but they also have to receive amounts in line with the taxpayers they represent.

Geographic location: Brazil, Saskatchewan

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Recent comments

  • mr. scrooge
    December 06, 2012 - 13:31

    don't get me started on these useless politicians please. lets look at the 308 on parliment hill and their buddies in the old age home, OOPS! i meant the senate for example: acting like bullies on the floor, collecting a fat wage which they don't deserve, travelling the world, wine/dining on our dime, free expence claims, and how can we forget that fat pension they will collect for little or no work to the people they are suppose to serve. it seems thats the only thing politicians agree on these days are their own selfish needs and pensions. politics in canada as become corrupt and you wonder why so many of us are turn off by it and voter turnout so low. ITS SICKENING !

  • a business man
    December 06, 2012 - 09:06

    I disagree. $95,000 for a MHA is peanuts, and even if you and there 30K for an additional role, it is still peanuts. There is so much more money to be made in the private sector. I have considered going into politics, but honestly, I am too selfish...I would rather stay in the private sector and make more money. Serving the public is not as important to me as the almighty dollar. That is precisely why I have a tremendous amount of respect for the politicians who forgo the lucrative opportunities that the private sector offers to serve the public. I respect them because I am too selfish to do the same. So I think we should pay them more, so that we can attract the best and brightest people to run the province (and the country). You pay for what you get, and I seriously doubt that a meanly $95K will be enough to attract the best candidates.

    • JH
      December 06, 2012 - 10:38

      Are you serious??? Politicians are politicians because they wouldn't survive in the private sector. If you knew what they do, I don't think you will have the same respect. Look at the scandal of a few years ago. Look at the travel claims. Look at the bonus they gave out during a strike. Look at their pension plan. At 95,000 they are overpaid. Their assistants do the work.

    • a business man
      December 13, 2012 - 12:21

      While I do agree that there are some politicians that wouldn't survive in the private sector, there are also politicians that are very capable and that are assets to the government and citizens. I have a law degree and a MBA, both from top Canadian universities. I am a successful lawyer, entrepreneur and investor. I beleive that I would be an asset to the government, but I make far more than $95K in the private sector. I really want to help the people of Newfoundland by improving the government, but my desire to help does not justify working for only $95K. So I will just stay in the private sector. However, if they were to pay politicians more, maybe I would reconsider. Frankly, it is just like anything else in life. You get what you pay for, and if you want the best, you have to pay for it. If you don't pay, then the best will go to someone else who offers them more, and we will get stuck with the guy who is willing to work for 95K. So as long as we pay peanuts to our politicians, we we not get the most highly educated and experiences people to run our affairs. Yes, 95K may seem like a lot of money, but it nothing to someone who has spend just as much on their education. If we want top tier politicians, we have to pay for them. I know for a fact that many of my colleagues from law school and business school would laugh at a job offer of 95K. It really just comes down to asking ourselves who we really want to run our province. Do we want average people who think they know what they are doing, or do we those who are highly educated and experienced? If it the latter, then we have to pay for it. Plain and simple. 95K just won't cut it.

  • Colin Burke
    December 06, 2012 - 07:45

    I have no doubt that "all spoke of the need" for the public to recognize that our current crop of politicians themselves are precisely the kind of highly qualified personnel whom that kind of remuneration necessarily attracts. Or is that the sort of thing that necessarily goes without saying?