Have you ever heard of the adage you get what you pay for? Well, when it comes to our civic politicians, I think paying them a part-time salary for a full-time position is simply ludicrous.
After a few weeks working at City Hall, I quickly realized that our civic leaders are overworked, and underpaid. I’ll use the Vancouver example as it is the one I am most familiar with.
A city councillor in Vancouver is paid approximately $55,000 per year to perform their duties. As part of their job, they are expected to attend hundreds of community functions as well as the obligatory public hearings, committee and council meetings. Then you have to factor in all the hours councillors need to commit to speaking with their constituents on a regular basis.
Given how much we pay them, I think we're getting good value for money. In the case of Vancouver, we are looking at a $1 billion dollar a year operation. Doesn't it make sense to ensure the Board of Governors for this operation is properly compensated?
I would argue that by lowballing the compensation, you essentially end up with only two categories of people who run for public office. The first category are those who are independently wealthy and don’t need the councillor salary. The second category are those who consider a $55K per annum stipend the best job they’ve had in their life. For everyone in between, becoming a city councillor is simply not an option.
When you consider that Vancouver’s City Manager makes about $300K per year, and the Mayor of the City only makes about $120K, something has gone wrong with the system. How can the Mayor ever be taken seriously by the City Manager, when he makes less than 50% of her salary?
Why shouldn't the Mayor make at least 80% of whatever the City Manager receives in compensation, while City Councillors make at least 50% of what the Mayor is paid? This may help to attract a higher quality of candidate to run for public office, as well as properly compensate the position for the level of responsibility it has.
Given these uncertain economic times, it wouldn't be popular for any municipal council to begin providing themselves with pay raises or increases in staff while taxpayers are losing their jobs. The recent debate about pay increases in Toronto gives credence to this theory. That said, it could be argued that there is never a good time to give a politician a raise.
Word on the street is Mayor Robertson has already promised his caucus better compensation and an increased number of staff. If he goes ahead with this, he will most certainly use up some political capital, however, he's got a bit to spare given he just won a massive majority last November.
It's clear that countless major cities across Canada pay their civic politicians peanuts. Unless their working at a traveling carnival, I think it’s time we seriously consider giving them a pay raise.