Beyond the Headlines

Reviewing MLAs perks and pensions

Posted: Dec 6, 2013 2:13 PM ET Last Updated: Dec 6, 2013 2:13 PM ET

When the province's independent review panel delivers its report into MLA remuneration early next year, their salaries and pensions will get most of the attention.


But Nova Scotians would do well to take a close look at the fine print.


In addition to salaries -- ranging from $89,234.90 for back bench MLAs to more than $200,000 a year for Premier Stephen McNeil -- and their so-called "gold-plated pensions" are dozens of expense claims that add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars billed to taxpayers every year.


Some have already been called into question by Auditor General Jacques Lapointe.


For example, every "outside member" is entitled to claim thousands of dollars a year in taxpayer-paid benefits and allowances including up to $1,499 a month to rent apartments in Halifax, per diems and up to 52 trips to and from their constituencies each year.


An "outside member" is defined as any MLA who lives more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the legislature.


The auditor general calls that distance "outdated" -- one that doesn't consider or take into account the daily commute many Nova Scotians have to get to their work.


MLAs can also claim mileage to travel from their homes to their constituency offices and Halifax-area MLAs can claim mileage from their home to the legislature. Again, Lapointe questions the appropriateness of this perk.


In his report reviewing the living expenses of now Economic and Rural Development Minister Michel Samson, Lapointe says "while this travel may be related to a member's duties, it is no different from the daily commute of many Nova Scotians to perform their jobs."


Lapointe also questioned the practice of renting apartments for out-of-town MLAs year round. He says it may be more cost-effective to simply rent hotel rooms for the days they need to be in Halifax.


And there are other smaller perks not covered in that report.


MLAs can bill taxpayers for any community or service organization they join, up to $510 per membership, per year, and every time they attend a fundraising event or dinner they can expense the cost of the ticket.


Both raise the profile of the MLA in their constituency, which could be seen as a clear benefit to the member come election day,


The review panel, which has yet to be named, is scheduled to file its report by March 31. When it's released, take a few minutes to read the fine print.


After all, it's your money.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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