Liberals grapple over leader salary issue

New Brunswick's Liberal Party will soon have a new leader and will have to decide whether to pay that person a salary out of party funds.

None of the 3 leadership hopefuls have a legislature seat

Liberal leadership candidates (from left), Nick Duivenvoorden, Michael Murphy and Brian Gallant are all without a seat in the legislature. (CBC)

New Brunswick’s Liberal Party will soon have a new leader and will have to decide whether to pay that person a salary out of party funds.

The Liberals didn't pay Shawn Graham a salary when he was leader but he was already earning a salary as an MLA when he won the job.

Former health minister Michael Murphy, Brian Gallant, a Moncton-area lawyer, and Nick Duivenvoorden, a former Belledune mayor, do not have seats in the legislative assembly.

So the future leader will have no income if he gives up his current job to work full-time as party leader.

Duivenvoorden runs a dairy farm in Belledune and he acknowledges taking on the party’s top job would have financial implications for him.

"If I found myself away from here on a full-time basis, obviously that would create a considerable void and that would have to be filled some way and that would cost money," he said.

Gallant said he's not worrying about the personal financial issues he might face if elected leader on Oct. 27.

"At the end of the day this is a bit premature. I'm thinking about the next two weeks, before the cut-off, to make sure everybody gets registered to vote in this leadership, everyone who's interested," he said.

"I don't care if and what I get paid. I'm not in it for the money so that's a bridge we'll cross when we get there."

Murphy said if he wins the leadership, he will hand off all his legal cases to others in his law firm so he can be a full-time leader.

But Murphy would continue to collect some income from those cases as other lawyers in the firm wrap them up.

Party salaries can be controversial

The Liberals could offer to pay the party’s next leader a salary out of the funds it collects each year from donations and provincial subsidies.

Bernard Lord collected a salary from the Progressive Conservative Party, even when he was premier.

Watchdog groups said at the time such situations create a risk that the elected official could be influenced by those who donate money to the party, which is the source of part of his income.

Murphy said he’s concerned about the optics of a leader collecting a salary paid for by the party.

"That's a significant issue to consider because I have advanced a campaign all along for this leadership that I have no strings attached to me," he said.

The Liberal party says it has not raised the issue of a future salary with any of the leadership candidates.

Duivenvoorden said if the new leader is paid a salary, it should stop once they start collecting an MLA's salary.

If the new leader was elected to the legislature, he would be paid the MLA salary of approximately $85,000 and another $55,000 as opposition leader.