City council salaries are in the news again!
The Vancouver Courier’s Mike Howell, in one of his recent 12th and Cambie columns, notes that all city councillors but one are earning more than $100,000 per year, and that’s before any additional remuneration they collect, say, for chairing other committees such as ones tied to Metro Vancouver. This reminds me of a number of interesting conversations that have occurred over the years about the work of a city councillor.
Many years ago when my hero, Harry Rankin, was on city council, the topic of councillor salaries came up for debate. Council was once again deciding whether or not to award itself a pay raise — clearly a conflict of interest if there ever was one. Those debating in favour of the pay raise argued that the time it was taking city councillors to carry out their duties had doubled and, therefore, a commensurate pay raise was more than appropriate.
Harry Rankin would have none of it. To start, he was recognized by folks from all parts of the political spectrum as being by far the most efficient member of council. He had no difficulty staying on top of all of his council duties along with his very busy law practice.
Harry’s take was to ask his fellow council members how long a factory owner would keep his workers when they admitted it was taking them twice as long to complete their jobs. Workers who suggested they had become half as efficient, he argued, wouldn’t be awarded a pay raise — they would be fired! As I’m sure you can guess, the councillors of the day awarded themselves a hefty pay raise anyway, but Harry’s argument has always stayed with me.
Readers of this blog who know anything about my politics will be surprised to learn of my compliments to former NPA Mayor Gordon Campbell. During his administration he decided it was time to put an end, once and for all, to city councillors regularly deciding how large their pay raise should be.
In fact, he decided they should not have a say at all in setting their pay rates. Instead, it should be equivalent to the amount earned by the average person employed at the City of Vancouver as measured by Statistics Canada. Such an egalitarian idea coming from such a right-wing mayor! Campbell’s proposal was approved by council, with Councillor Rankin’s strong support.
I was pleased that for many post-Campbell years, this egalitarian approach was followed by successive city councils.
When I was on council, partway through my second term (2002-05), COPE had a comfortable majority with the mayor and 8 of the 10 councillors belonging to the party. Some of the then-COPE councillors, who subsequently left COPE and formed Vision Vancouver, were terribly dissatisfied with the salary they were earning. One day a new and notably small pay raise kicked in for City Hall staff, including the secretarial support staff for city council.
I can still recall (with a smile) the discussion I had with Councillor Tim Stevenson. He was quite upset that his secretary was getting this small raise and yet he was, as he stated, “significantly underpaid”.
I asked him what his choice would be if we raised the salary of city council secretaries to match that of councillors: Would he become a secretary or remain a city councillor? He looked bewildered and replied, why a city councillor of course! Who would ever want to be a secretary!?
I didn’t respond but the question stands: Why should any position that rewards those who hold it with power and prestige also receive more and more money at the behest of those who hold that position?
I’m sad to say that just a few years ago council finally did away with former Mayor Campbell’s egalitarian approach, replacing it with a system for salaries allegedly based on comparisons with other cities and adjusted for population size, budgets and more.
Before signing off, I’ll leave you with one more thought about council salaries, this one from my significant other, Penny Parry. She asked me the other day how long Vancouver would be able to manage without garbage collection workers, and how long it could manage without Tim Stevenson and the Vision Vancouver majority on city council. It reminded me that councillors are paid roughly double the amount paid to the people who collect our garbage every week.