TORONTO - Members of the Ontario legislature won't get a pay raise before 2019 under proposed legislation that the opposition parties said Tuesday was an attempt by the Liberal government to distract from its "sorry" record ahead of a possible spring election.
The Canadian Press has learned the Liberals will introduce the bill next week to avoid an automatic pay increase for MPPs of five to six per cent that would kick in April 1.
There's little chance the bill could pass before the last legislated pay freeze expires, but government sources said the salary hike would not go through as long as the new legislation is on the order paper.
The legislation will extend the pay freeze — which was first imposed in 2009 and then renewed in 2012 — until 2019, and even then MPPs would only get a raise if the provincial budget is balanced.
The Liberals face an $11.7-billion deficit, and the sources said freezing the pay of politicians and their non-unionized political staff is the government's way of leading by example in reducing government spending.
The opposition parties, however, said the MPP wage freeze was more about distracting voters from the Liberals' poor record in government.
"They've got two police investigations on them, a whole bunch of scandals lined up behind them from eHealth to the gas plants scandals, and this is an attempt to take the attention off what is a pretty bad record on the part of this government," said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson. "They're trying to position themselves on a populist message in light of what could be an election this spring."
The Liberals attempted to impose a two-year wage freeze on civil servants and more than one million people in Ontario's broader public sector, but the Progressive Conservatives said there were too many loopholes that allowed people to get raises.
"They talk about restraint and they talk about wage freeze, but 98 per cent of the managers did receive an increase," said PC finance critic Vic Fedeli. "We're the only party talking about an across-the-board legislated wage freeze for everybody."
Ontario MPPs are supposed to make 75 per cent of what Members of Parliament make, but have been capped at $116,500 a year for the past five years. They would be entitled to a raise of up to six per cent this year to maintain that ratio.
MPs got a 1.6 per cent raise in 2013-14 for the first time in three years, and have a base pay of $160,200. The sources point out MPs also have a pension plan, an expensive benefit that former premier Mike Harris eliminated for Ontario MPPs.
Ontario cabinet ministers earn $165,850, while Premier Kathleen Wynne is paid $208,974 a year.
The Liberals introduced legislation last week that would give the government the power to put a ceiling on the salaries of public sector CEOs, which they said would be done on a sector by sector basis. However, the government did not provide any figures on what the new "hard caps" on executive compensation would be, and the NDP said the bill really doesn't let them impose salary limits.
"They've been doing these kinds of announcements in order to take the attention off their sorry record," said Bisson. "So I take this for what it is, a cynical political play."
The NDP had demanded all public sector executives, including hospital CEOs and the heads of the province's electrical utilities, have their salaries capped at around $415,000 a year, or twice the premier's salary.
"If they wanted to lead by example they would put a bill in the house that actually caps CEO salaries," said Bisson.
The Tories said the Liberals never managed to impose a real pay freeze on public sector workers in Ontario, despite former finance minister Dwight Duncan's assertion that the government "can't manage the deficit without addressing what is the single biggest line in our budget, public sector compensation."
"So the Liberals talk a mean game, but they never, ever, ever pull the trigger on getting this done," said Fedeli. "And that's why they have no plan to balance the budget by 2017-18."
The minority Liberal government will need the support of at least one of the opposition parties to get the MPP wage freeze legislation passed into law.
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