Seasonal workers disgruntled about MLAs’ 40 km commute
In light of the recent spotlight on MLA's housing allowances, some Nova Scotians say there's a double standard at play when it comes to what constitutes an acceptable commute to work.
Members of the provincial legislature are entitled to a $1,500 apartment allowance if they live more than 40 km away from Province House. Cabinet ministers are eligible for $1,700.
Meanwhile, seasonal workers are expected to look for work within a hundred kilometers of their home in order to be eligible for EI benefits.
Amanda Rhyno, manager of the Grand Banker Restaurant in Lunenburg, said according to the new EI rules, when the restaurant shuts it doors in the winter she has to look for work as far away as Halifax.
She said if MLA's aren't expected to travel that far, seasonal workers shouldn't have to travel twice the distance.
"It’s pretty infuriating to hear about it. Get in their car and drive. Get the car maintained. Pay for their tires and gas like we are," Rhyno said.
Down the street, Portrait Store Owner Peter Matyas agrees.
"It should be equal. I travel to Halifax every day for work," he said.
Lunenburg MLA Pam Birdsall claims a benefit for an apartment in Halifax to stay in the city.
Mayor Rachel Bailey said the commuting rule for both EI claimants and MLAs should be reviewed. She said the comparison highlights the harsh unfairness for claimants.
"We're not talking about the same resources when you have an MLA and an EI claimant and to hold the EI claimant to a much higher expectation is unfair and it's not reasonable to expect," she said.
The issue came to light when Richmond MLA Michel Samson asked for a review of his living arrangements after a CBC investigation raised a number of questions about the house he rents in the city.
Since then, the Speaker’s office has determined Samson lives full time in Halifax, spends most of his time in the city and can no longer bill taxpayers for his monthly rent.
The auditor general is reviewing the case.
Stipend vs. allowance
Meanwhile, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation says it's time to tighten up the purse strings.
"Politicians are owed taxpayer money in order to have a place in Halifax to do their business, but what we see in Nova Scotia, it has one of the most expensive living allowance systems in Canada when you look at other provinces of similar size and ilk to Nova Scotia," said Atlantic director Kevin Lacey.
He said in other province s MLAs receive a stipend based on how many nights they spend in the capital.
"A system where politicians are compensated for each time they come into the city for their work. What other provinces have found is that politicians are not here enough, particularly those who are not ministers, to make it worthwhile to pay them for things like apartments," he said.
Newfoundland did a direct comparison of the two systems. They found the Nova Scotia method was four times as expensive.