06/11/2013 09:27 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Opposition questions hikes to political aide salaries

Despite campaigning on a promise of fiscal restraint, the newly-elected Liberal government has quietly hiked the pay scales for many political staffers.

Chiefs of staff in ministry offices — the aides that accompany cabinet ministers — are getting their pay scale limits bumped up to $105,000 a year, up from a ceiling of $94,500, and the caps in the premier's office are much higher.

Clark's new deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario, was hired at a salary of $195,000, which is $50,000 more annually than what her predecessor, Kim Haakstad, had earned with a salary cap of $144,000.

Under the recent pay scale changes, the salary for Cadario's position can go as high as $230,000.

Christy Clark's chief of staff can also now make as much as $230,000, which is up from the previous salary cap of $195,148 for the position.

Jordan Bateman, spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, wonders how the B.C. Liberal government can justify the salaries, especially in relation to other governments' pay scales.

"Barack Obama's chief of staff running the White House makes $175,000 a year," he said. "And yet we need to have the deputy chief of staff make more than that here in B.C.?"

Opposition questions belt-tightening claims

During the election, the Liberals campaigned on the need to control costs. Now that the election is over, the opposition New Democrats are asking why Premier Christy Clark isn't practicing what she was preaching.

NDP Leader Adrian Dix said the cabinet aide raises, along with the recent creation of new aide positions, is almost insulting to the public.

"I think what it reflects is a government that has already seemingly forgotten what it told them in the election campaign," he said. "It's so disrespectful to voters."

NDP House leader John Horgan said the hikes amount to the Liberals going back on their campaign promises in favour of rewarding party insiders. And it is the taxpayers, ultimately, who will pay for the raises.

"The first day that cabinet meets, their priority is not the people of British Columbia; it's to give massive pay increases to political insiders. It's just plain wrong, they're off on the wrong foot," he said. "This is a taxpayer-funded pay increase for political insiders, plain and simple."

Overall staff budget stable: de Jong

Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the changes are part of the process of electing a new government, and that the salary increases simply represent money being re-allocated within the existing staff budget.

"I think people understand that a new government re-elected with a new mandate may make changes of those sort," he said.

"[There are] new positions, some new responsibilities, but again, from a fiscal point of view, the concern has been addressed that the overall budget for staff is the same."

The government won't say how many staffers got pay hikes as a result of the changes, but the premier's office says the total staff budget has actually been reduced from $5.74 million to $5.71 million with the new adjustments.