New Brunswick

New Brunswick MLAs forget to block pay hike — again

MLAs are supposed to be under a wage freeze as part of government spending restraint but their pay hikes occur automatically unless formally cancelled.

Government plans to withhold amounts from MLAs until they can be cancelled later this fall

Liberal cabinet minister Donald Arseneault said there is no excuse for the oversight. (CBC)

New Brunswick MLAs were allotted an accidental pay raise last October and likely have a second unintended increase on the way this October because no one in government noticed.

That means MLAs have been legally entitled to extra money — about $100 per month — for the past 10 months, although none of it has been paid out.

MLAs are supposed to be under a wage freeze as part of a government spending restraint but their pay hikes occur automatically unless formally cancelled.

No action was taken to stop an increase last year or one approaching later this year.  

"Unfortunately, there was an oversight," acknowledged senior Liberal cabinet minister Donald Arseneault about the recently detected increases.

"There's no excuse for it. It should have been done. It was not done but it will be done in the next fall session."

We'll bring forward retroactive legislation to make sure [no raises] are implemented.- Donald Arseneault, Liberal cabinet minister

Initially, no one in government appeared to notice a requirement to pay MLAs more money had been activated by legislation until CBC News asked about the issue last month.

Now that the requirement has been noticed, the plan is to withhold the amounts from MLAs on purpose until they can be cancelled later this fall — a fix the province believes to be legal.

"We'll bring forward retroactive legislation to make sure [no raises] are implemented. We are committed to that and that's what we'll do," said Arseneault 

No legislation passed on freezes

MLA salaries are governed by the Legislative Assembly Act and according to that law increases "shall" be paid every year if New Brunswick's economy grows.    

An amendment is required annually to disable the increase and, although the Gallant government publicly announced many times the MLA wage freeze would continue in 2016 and 2017, it failed to pass any legislation to make that happen.

MLA salaries are governed by the Legislative Assembly Act and according to that law pay increases "shall" be paid every year if New Brunswick's economy grows. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

"Government will continue to freeze MLA salaries for the ninth consecutive year," Finance Minister Cathy Rogers announced during her January budget speech this year, apparently unaware the first of two MLA wage hikes had already been triggered four months earlier.

The MLA salary formula tracks real growth [not including inflation] in New Brunswick's economy as reported by Statistics Canada and every Oct. 1, it grants MLAs 75 per cent of any economic increase from the previous year as a pay raise..  

Last October, estimates were that New Brunswick's economy had grown 1.9 per cent in 2015 [an amount later revised to 2.3 per cent] and that required a 1.4 per cent pay increase for MLAs on Oct. 1, 2016 — the first in eight years.

A second increase, likely to be one per cent, is scheduled again for Oct. 1 this year. It can't be stopped because the Legislature does not reconvene until Oct. 24.

Paying raises impractical

Speaker Chris Collins said paying MLAs the raises required by legislation now that they have been discovered is impractical as they may simply have to be paid back later this fall. (CBC)

Speaker Chris Collins, who is also responsible for its budget, said paying MLAs the raises now that they've been discovered is impractical as retroactive cancellation of the increases later this fall would require MLAs to pay all the extra money back.

"I don't think that this is a violation of the legislation," said Collins. 

"The amount of work it would cause my staff to to go back and collect the money paid to MLAs, it just doesn't make any sense."

Cancelling MLA pay raises in 2013, 2014 and 2015 was not an issue because New Brunswick's economy did not grow at all during the period used to calculate increases for those years.

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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