Better late than never

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St. John’s city councillors were right about one thing: the city’s pension rules for council members have not kept up with the times.

Monday night, council voted to change the plan, a lucrative arrangement that saw councillors contribute not one cent to a program that would then pay long-sitting members as much as 60 per cent of their salaries for, essentially, the rest of their lives.

You’d be hard pressed to find a similar arrangement anywhere else in government. Even MHAs, recipients of one of the most golden handshakes in this province, have to contribute to their pensions, even though their contributions are far below the spectacular amounts they draw out of the plan.

Under the changes in St. John’s, new councillors will be given an extra six per cent of their salary to contribute towards a registered retirement savings plan; that being said, former councillors will continue to be paid the pensions they are already receiving with funds from the city’s general revenues. It means, of course, that if you’ve managed to get elected enough times, city taxpayers get to sponsor your retirement.

The old plan allowed councillors to receive a pension equivalent to 20 per cent of their salary after holding office for two terms, 40 per cent after two terms, and 60 per cent after three. For former mayors, the dollar figures can be substantial, and the expenses will continue long into the fiscal future.

But the changes are mostly for incoming candidates.

Members now on council will be able to choose either to enter the RRSP plan or else start contributing six per cent of their salary while staying in the existing plan.

All in all, it’s a far better pension scheme than the vast majority of their constituents have access to, and it’s unlikely that the hardly surprising unanimous decision by council Monday night will see any of the incumbents choose to surrender the existing arrangement.

After all, they can argue (with some merit) that they should be allowed to receive the pay and benefits that they signed up for when they first campaigned for their positions.

They are, as former federal Liberal David Dingwall once so famously said about his pay and benefits as the head of the Canadian Mint, entitled to their entitlements, as ridiculous as those entitlements may now seem.

The simple point is that it is the right decision, years too late.

The simple truth is that it is a holdover from the days when there were two classes of citizens: those above and those below — and those below were expected to pay for the comforts of their “betters.”

We don’t live that way anymore, and neither should they.

Organizations: Canadian Mint

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  • Ed. Anstey
    July 10, 2013 - 20:06

    that's the same BS that was pushed down our throats 50 years ago by government members so they gave themselves big fat salaries and lucrative pensions along with a lot of perks and privileges but we have continually got worse governments over the last 50 years. the present regime is living proof of that because there is not one member of that bunch of clowns that could properly run an outhouse.

  • elizabeth
    July 10, 2013 - 14:50

    what a great editorial,really enjoyedit,i wish the person who wrote it was running for a seat, he or she would get my vote.The crowd down at city hall have no shame ,we should kick them out, they are a disgrace.

  • Joe
    July 10, 2013 - 11:13

    Mr. Kent many volunteers work mores hours for no pay. If they want to get on the gravytrain they can become MHA's although I would suggest they not run as PC"s.

  • Steve
    July 10, 2013 - 08:51

    I think your conclusion is off. People are always complaining about salaries and benefits for elected officials. I think St. John's is at a juncture where we really need to consider whether Council members should be paid as full time positions. I understand that many of them put in a lot of hours in a week, and it is very difficult to keep a full time job on top of a Council position. If it is impossible or impractical to retain your full time job as well as be a member of Council, and if Councilor salaries remain what they are right now, you have just limited your range of potential candidates significantly. You will see wealthy business types running, people whose spouses make lots of money, retired people, and people who earn relatively low wages, for whom the current salary would be an improvement, or at least no less than what they are making now. We would be excluding the vast majority of professional people out there in the public and private sectors, some of whom have vested pension plans or established careers. These people are not going to leave their jobs for a lower salary and no pension. We are talking about the most educated and accomplished people in their fields - the best and the brightest - people who are earning $50 to $90 grand a year, who have families to support, mortgages, etc. We need to figure this one out, people, otherwise we are short changing ourselves by eliminating a large group of highly qualified individuals with lots of expertise.