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LETTER: Voters should make politicians’ pay an election issue

A lot of people are struggling these days, after coming out of a multi-year pandemic only to be hit by a cost-of-living crisis.

But when you examine the failed governance process around remuneration and the recent huge hikes local politicians gave themselves in Colwood, Esquimalt, Sooke, Oak Bay and View Royal, there’s little solace.

During the municipal election, blunt questions about generous pay packages should be directed face-to-face to our political hopefuls. For starters, why the darn secrecy?

Few municipalities – Saanich and Victoria are exceptions – bother to publicly inform residents about council remuneration and expenses. Nor do most bother posting easily accessed expense policies, statements of financial information or financial disclosure statements so taxpayers can spot such things as conflicts of interest or financial irregularities.

The CRD is governed by a 24-member board of directors, supported by more than 75 committees and commissions, and they are compensated. The CRD posts on its website the remuneration and expense allowances – a base salary of $14,000 for directors and $7,000 in expenses – received for these additional roles. There may also be bonuses for taking on the role of committee chairs, per diems for showing up, sitting on commissions, or other bodies.

In Colwood, a few weeks before the fall election, council almost doubled their salary. Pay will be also adjusted annually by Victoria’s Consumer Price Index, and the BC Stats sub-provincial population estimate. Of note, the next pay increases will also be determined by an independent committee during the last year of the term in office.

Why do councils set their own pay?

Few things enrage taxpayers more than seeing councils setting their own pay. Increasingly councils are deferring to staff reports that compare their jurisdictions to others (a sure way to get an increase) to mitigate public flak.

To their credit, Colwood is one of the few jurisdictions to have appointed a four-person citizen committee to report with recommendations on pay and expenses. Salary increases here are based on population, a reasonable consideration given the growth in the municipality.

Depending on your perspective, the important question is, why in heck are there 13 fiefdoms on the South Island? The 425,000 or so souls live in the most over-governed region in Canada. Calgary, population 1.3 million, operates with one mayor and 14 councillors.

It seems reasonable to direct some constructive grumpiness – certainly not uncivil vitriol – toward tone-deaf municipalities that can’t get their act together on paying politicians.

Stan Bartlett, vice-chair

Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria