THE BLOG

Media Bites:Our Politicians Pocket More Than Obama's Chief of Staff

06/17/2013 12:27 EDT | Updated 08/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Being chief of staff to the president of the United States seems like a tough job. Not only are you responsible for planning the schedule of the busiest, most in-demand man on the planet, you're also expected to offer wise consul on everything from who to stick on the Supreme Court to what country to bomb.

Thankfully, it's also a job that looks pretty good on the ol' resume; President Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was elected mayor of Chicago shortly after quitting; his successor runs the US Treasury. President Ford's guy was a certain D. Cheney, who I understand went on to greater things as well.

But while the gig may drip with stature and power, one thing it's decidedly not is high-paying.

At least by Canadian standards.

BC Premier Christy Clark made headlines last week after it was announced that a round of raises for her administration's top staffers would be one of the first official acts of her second term. As many wags were quick to note, this included bumping up her own chief of staff's pay by a hearty 18% -- a move which now makes the head advisor to the chief minister of Canada's third-largest province a considerably better paying job ($230,000/year) than head advisor to the leader of the free world (a measly $172,000).

In fact, merely being advisor to the advisor of the chief minister of Canada's third-largest province is a better paying position than head White House guy, since even Clark's deputy chief of staff is now pocketing a cool $195,148 per annum.

Since this country wastes oodles of taxpayer money on such a vast number of brazenly pointless things (what's the estimate on Senator Harb's tab this week?) it's easy to forget that the "good" (or at least functional) branches of our government gorge on decadent amounts of our cash, too. A particularly Canadian pathology in this regard is our political class' pompously sheltered estimations of what their own jobs are worth -- not to mention how many of those jobs we need in the first place.

As Premier Clark stood basking in the afterglow of her re-inauguration, she was surrounded by the beaming faces of 19 ministers and 15 parliamentary secretaries. By Canadian standards, that's about average. There are 17 cabinet ministers in Alberta23 in Quebec, and 26 in Ontario.

By American standards, however, this is completely nuts. Obama requires just 15 people to run a nation of 300 million, while the state of Florida, which has a population bigger than Canada's largest province, requires a grand total of three.

I imagine running Florida with the help of only three guys is a harder job than running, say, Manitoba (population: 1.2 million, cabinet ministers: 18), but you'd never know it by comparing executive salaries. Premier Greg Selinger collects $141,508 every year, while Gov. Rick Scott only pockets $130,000 (or at least he would, if he hadn't agreed to forgo his pay on principle). And Manitoba, by the way, likes to boast that it has the worst-paid premier in the country.

This is basically the story at every level of the Canadian government; we're paying more cash to more people to do almost certainly less work than their closest American equivalent. I don't know what keeps James Moore, Harper's Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, busy all day, for instance, but he earns a bigger paycheque doing it ($236,900) than the Speaker of the US House of Representatives ($223,5000) gets for running the legislative branch of the world's sole superpower.

Part of Canada's paycheque problem is our system of "stacking" salaries, whereby a single politician can wear many hats simultaneously and thereby qualify for a slew of separate handouts. This is part of the reason why Dalton McGuinty got such a generous severance when he quit the Ontario legislature last week, his retirement bonus was based on the premise that he's been working two jobs (MPP and premier), not one. John Boehner, by contrast, only gets paid to be Speaker, despite the fact he's also moonlighting as an Ohio Congressman.

The other problem, of course, is politics has become a profession, nay, industry, in modern Canada, and industry people tend to expect pay at industry standards. In other words, it doesn't matter that there's a world of difference between what the deputy minister to the premier of Saskatchewan and the head of the Pentagon actually do; on paper they're both "government workers," and thus, according to some jealously literal standard, both deserve around 200 grand a year. At the very least, senior government work is considered much more "important" than any alternative, and therefore certainly deserves a much grander salary than your average non-important Canadian and his sad little $26,000 income.

This sharp class disparity, more than anything else, is what makes the recent news of J-Tru's cleanup on the charity speakers circuit so unsettling. It's not the amount he got, nor the fact he was milking cash from an organization, which, by very definition, had better places to spend it. It was the inadvertent revelation that his six-figure MP/party boss job is apparently leisurely enough to allow a freelance gig on the side -- a conclusion shared by 151 of his parliamentary colleagues.

Enveloped by the daily travails of running the Oval Office, I doubt such top-off schemes ever pass the mind of the poor sucker rearranging appointments in the President's day planner.

Who, in case you were wondering, even makes less than Justin.

What Is Justin Trudeau Doing?