Coquitlam councillor wants province to oversee compensation for city politicians

Should someone other than local politicians decide what local politicians make?

Salaries for Metro Vancouver councillors range from $6K to $82K

An independent commission could be created by the provincial government to review and set remuneration for elected local government officials, argues a Coquitlam councillor. (CBC)

After Metro Vancouver politicians came under fire attempting to increase their compensation, a Coquitlam councillor has another idea: outsource the process to the provincial government.

"Therefore, be it resolved that [B.C. municipalities] request the Provincial Government establish a provincially-appointed independent commission to review and set remuneration for elected local government officials," reads a motion from Teri Towner. 

Councillor Brent Asmundson, who seconded the motion, said it could be a solution to an issue that perpetually creates controversy.

"Every municipality faces the same dilemma. They're responsible for the running of their cities and the setting of their salaries winds up a decision they have to make at the end of the day, because there's nobody to make the decision for you," he said.

"It's a good motion. It's something that we're just trying to think outside the box to solve an issue I think the public would like to see an answer to."

In Metro Vancouver alone, councillors make between $6,667.64 (in Belcarra) and $82,029 (in Vancouver), with extra compensation if they sit on various regional boards. 

When should provinces step in?

If Towner's motion passes later this month, it would be up to the Union of B.C. Municipalities to vote on whether to support the concept and lobby for it at their annual convention later this year. 

It's not unusual for municipalities to request the provincial government intervene in an issue. Last week, the City of Vancouver passed a motion asking the province to "inform and advise" cities considering symbols of the LGBT community, such as rainbow crosswalks, and to "provide financial and technical support."

"It's to provide clarity and continuity between communities across B.C., especially those who are facing challenges of bullying and homophobia," said Coun. George Affleck, who seconded Tim Stevenson's motion. 

He cautioned, however, that places where the provincial government should step in are few and far between.

"When we have issues that are challenges and creating problems in our communities, and some communities are torn into how to deal with it themselves … then perhaps that's a good time for the province to insert itself," said Affleck.

"Not in an aggressive way, but in a process way, so that cities can use the province and certain guidelines as an example to make new rules in their town."  

Good policy or passing the buck?

Whether the province would agree to establishing a commission is another question.

SFU political science professor Patrick Smith says he can't recall another time where the province has helped set the salaries of local politicians — and doesn't see what incentive they would have to do so now.

"The question might be turned around: why would the province want to get involved in such a thing. Why would you take the backlash when you get none of the benefits?"

Smith said that compensation in many municipalities still reflects a time when they had less authority, so questions of whether pay should be increased are fair. 

But he argued that with greater power comes greater responsibility. 

"Local governments are grown up enough now that they can make these kinds of decisions," he said.

"Even if the raise is entirely deserved, everyone tries to run away. It's also an election year, so it's not bad politics for a politician to say someone should do this, but it's not me."

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About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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