In the Canadian Army, officers eat last.
It doesn't matter how tired or hungry a young lieutenant is, they don't have a bite until every soldier has a full plate.
British Columbia MLAs need to start showing leadership and cut their perks before asking everyone else to tighten their belts. The premier’s office needs to stop padding its budget and ministers need to be held accountable if they overspend. Unfortunately for B.C. taxpayers, we’ve been seeing just the opposite.
It’s a tough economy for normal families right now. According to the Angus Reid Institute, a third of Canadians say they’re in a “bad” or “terrible” financial shape. Around 90 per cent of those people say that it’s difficult for them to even feed their families.
Nationally, housing affordability is “worse than it’s been in more than 30 years”. The average price of a detached home is nearly $2 million in the area around Vancouver. If a couple wanted to buy a basic 1960s bungalow in Burnaby, they’d need a down payment of about $400,000 and their monthly mortgage payment would be $8,500 for 30 years.
While normal families are struggling, B.C. politicians are living like rockstars. If Premier David Eby is serious about helping out the little guy, his government needs to start leading by example.
Just to convince politicians to forgo their annual pay raise this year was like pulling teeth. MLAs wanted an eight-per-cent pay raise that would see back bench MLAs taking home an extra $10,000 per year. Convincing them that it was out of touch to take a pay raise took months of deliberation and “many thousands” of emails from worried taxpayers.
It shouldn’t have taken public outrage for the provincial politicians to do the right thing.
MLAs already make $115,000 per year, with ministers taking home $172,000 and Eby raking in $219,000. Through the legislative assembly’s transitional assistance program, MLAs are in line for an average of $144,000 once they quit or are fired by their constituents. In total, the current crop of legislators will cost taxpayers just under $12.2 million in transitional assistance alone.
Even though they went without their annual pay raise, the politicians have been taking more money through larger operational budgets for their offices and ministries.
At the same time, Eby added two brand new ministries which, combined, will cost British Columbians a billion dollars this year. The new Ministry of Housing is estimated to cost $897 million, while the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness costs have been pegged at $101 million this year.
Despite the Ministry of Emergency Management taking over various roles from the Ministry of Public Safety, that ministry’s budget also went up this year. Last year, the Ministry of Public Safety spent $913 million, this year, that’s going up to just over $1 billion.
In total, this year will see politicians spending $55.4 billion on their ministries. Last year’s budget projected $50.7 billion in ministry spending. That means politicians are overspending their budgets by $4.7 billion.
If the ministers had simply stuck to their budgets, British Columbia could end this year with a $500-million surplus instead of a forecasted $4.2-billion deficit.
The perks don’t end at six-figure salaries, a golden parachute and outrageous office expenses.
NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert made headlines and caught the attention of the editorial pages when it was reported that he has billed taxpayers more than $70,000 in travel expenses over the past two years. His expenses include multiple same-day round trips made by helicopter between his home near Victoria and the Vancouver riding he represents.
But the problem isn’t isolated to Chandra Herbert. MLAs in B.C. are entitled to bring an accompanying person who “is typically a family member,” on 12 trips every year. That’s far more than is allowed in other provinces.
For comparison, Alberta spouses are allowed to travel on four MLA trips per year, but only if they are needed for “public or official business.” In many other provinces, politicians’ family members aren’t allowed to expense any travel.
It’s time that the Eby government starts showing leadership from the top. Eby needs to show taxpayers that we aren’t alone in the economic storm our province has endured. Cutting his cabinet’s perks and making sure they aren’t overspending by billions is an easy way to start.
Carson Binda is the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.