The best part of yesterday's report on MLA pay, perks and pensions is the appendix.
It includes every citizen submission: long and short, reasonable and unhinged, typed and handwritten, demonstrating every shade of the rainbow of outrage.
The report's recommendations don't come close to addressing the broad consensus of those submissions, which is that MLA pensions should, at the very most, be the same as civil service pensions.
And not only that: for every mole that got whacked in yesterday's report, another one popped up.
Something special about MLAs
Like the last report, in 2011, this panel accepts the premise that there's something special about MLAs that justifies an unusually generous pension plan.
This has always been a losing proposition. Try telling a small business owner about long hours. Try telling a sales rep how hard it is to be on the road. Try telling a nurse about responsibility. Try telling a power lineman about working unusual hours in trying conditions.
But the panel disagrees. They don't bother arguing the point; they just quote from the last report. Once they accept that MLAs are special, it follows logically that MLA pensions should be special too.
The panel does recommend integration with the Canada Pension Plan, something that has always been a feature of the civil service plan. That's sensible.
But other than that, the panel doesn't touch the most generous parts of the MLA pension: the 3.5 per cent annual rate of accumulation and the fact that the pension is payable at age 55.
In fact, the panel heads in the opposite direction — they want to make it easier for MLAs to qualify. Instead of five years and two elections, an MLA will now have to be elected only once and serve only two years, in order to qualify.
See what I mean about whack-a-mole? Just when a sensible change is made to limit over-generosity, another generous feature is added.
When this recommendation was made by the last panel three years ago, it was rejected by the Dexter government, with — as I recall — the support of the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.
It should be rejected again. If you're going to keep a pension plan with rich benefits, it makes sense that the barrier to entry should be higher.
Naiveté over donations
The panel makes a variety of detailed recommendations about MLA expenses, down to the microscopic level of cutlery and coffee makers.
There's only one aspect of the expense changes that I'll highlight here.
MLAs are beset by donation requests. The panel sensibly recommends against allowing MLAs to expense donations and gifts. If MLAs want to make donation, let them, but not on the taxpayer's dime.
But then the panel recommends that advertising limits be lifted and MLAs should be able to expense tickets for community events. I think this shows considerable naiveté.
Let's be frank. The bulk of MLA advertising is political promotion. That's why limits were imposed in the first place.
Promote the MLA, promote their re-election. Can't expense a $500 donation to the local minor hockey association? No problem — buy $500 of "advertising" for the arena boards, the kids' jerseys or the tournament program. Nudge, nudge.
And what about tickets to community events? Usually the MLA is invited as a guest and doesn't have to buy a ticket. If not, the event's often a fundraiser. Buying a ticket is the same thing as making a donation.
Now that the doors are open to expensing tickets, we can expect to see a long list of ticket purchases on MLAs' monthly expense reports. Wink, wink.
Cost of the changes isn't known
Even if we quibble over details, the reform package would be worthwhile if we knew that overall expenses would be going down.
But we don't know that.
The panel makes no attempt to put a price on their recommendations. Some of the recommendations will save money and some will cost money. The system is so obscure that there's no way of knowing whether MLAs will end up with more or less money in their pockets as a result of these changes.
Has the MLA remuneration issue been resolved? Not even close.
I wonder who will be on the next panel?