Commentary with Geoff deGannes
The latest Nova Scotia Government-appointed panel to review pay and compensation for provincial MLAs has taken further steps to rein in the salaries and perks provided our elected representatives.
For the most part, the review panel, comprised of former auditor general Roy Salmon, Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton and consumer advocate and lawyer John Merrick got it right. The panel determined MLA salaries are in line with what politicians in other parts of Canada make.
Nova Scotia MLAs are paid $89,000 a year, the premier is paid $202,000 a year and cabinet ministers receive $138,000 a year. There is no denying that a life in politics can be extremely demanding and that if we are going to attract the brightest and best, they must be adequately compensated.
The committee came up with one change that pertains to who can or cannot claim expenses for a living allowance in Halifax. MLAs who are considered “outside members,” meaning they can claim expenses for a residence in the Halifax area, now must live more than 100 kilometres from Province House. The previous distance was about 40 kilometres. That certainly makes sense when you consider there are many working Nova Scotians who drive 40 kilometers to work every day.
Where the three-person panel has fallen short is in their inability to adequately reform MLAs’ pensions. They may no longer be the gold-plated variety they were prior to changes made a couple of years ago, but they are still too generous for this province’s economy and its struggling taxpayers. We are still expected to contribute six dollars to a MLAs’ one dollar contribution. Members will now qualify for a pension after just two years of service, as opposed to the present model of five years and two elections. As well, MLAs can still collect their pension starting at age 55.
The panel is of the opinion that our elected representatives should be able to build their pensions faster than anyone else because of the insecurity of their jobs beyond the four-year election cycle. That’s a tough argument to sell in our current economy where few Nova Scotians enjoy long-term job security.
Don’t expect much debate on this from the politicians. The recommendations are binding, retroactive to Nov. 1, 2013, with the exception of pension changes which take effect following the next general election. In other words, this new pay benefit scheme is a done deal.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.