Homeless people living in parks. Empty storefronts downtown. Seaterra scrapped at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. The late and over budget Johnston St. Bridge. Taxes climbing, with a demand for a two cent per litre gas tax hike still on the books. Amalgamation backburnered.
These are just a few of the pressing issues facing Capital Regional District (CRD) politicians.
So what have your elected leaders been working on lately? Well, they gave themselves a big, fat raise -- nearly doubling their pay for sitting on the CRD board and various committees.
To be clear, this isn't the pay they receive for being elected to their local council in Victoria, Langford or any other municipality. This is just the extra pay they get for attending CRD meetings.
The claims some of these politicians use to justify their cash grab are downright embarrassing.
First, there's the line that CRD pay hasn't changed in 20 years. Sure, that's true, but every mayor and councillor has received raises from their city halls during that period. So they all got more money from taxpayers.
And even if they hadn't, so what? When these politicians decided to run for office, there was no gun being held to their head. They willingly put their name forward in a local election. When they won, they chose to accept the appointment to the CRD. And they did so, knowing precisely what they were going to be paid -- and what sacrifices would have to be made personally.
Secondly, some CRD politicians also spoke about the need for pay to be "competitive." This is absolute nonsense -- there is no competitive market for regional districts. It's not like a Saanich councillor, dismayed at the wage paid a CRD director, can jump ship to the Metro Vancouver Regional District (although we'd like to see them try). No other regional district is out trying to recruit CRD directors to their boards.
Here's the truth about politician pay. Some are grossly overpaid for the work they do, while some are terribly underpaid. But that distinction is very much in the eye of the beholder. Given the long list of pressing concerns facing the CRD, it certainly seems like there is room for improvement.
But here are a few guidelines. Politicians shouldn't be raising their own pay. If a raise is necessary, it should be put in place for the next mayor and council, not the current one -- giving voters a chance to speak on the issue.
Further, politicians shouldn't double dip. A mayor or council salary should be all they get; there should be no top-up for regional roles. They are only on regional bodies because we elect them locally. There's only one taxpayer -- and we pay them already for their work.
Lastly, no evidence exists to prove that paying more attracts better candidates to public life. In fact, Rod Sykes, the former mayor of Calgary, argues that his city got better candidates when they paid less.
The CRD would be well advised to at least reverse the pay hikes and start focusing on some of issues that really matter to regional taxpayers.
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