North

N.W.T. MLA salaries set to increase with inflation as freeze comes to an end

N.W.T. MLAs will get a small salary increase starting April 1, when a two-year salary freeze comes to an end.

2-year freeze on cost of living adjustments ends April 1; Union says all workers should have same protection

Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne said the end of the freeze means things will return to the way they were before, as MLAs normally receive an adjustment to their salaries each year for inflation. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

N.W.T. MLAs will get a small salary increase starting April 1, when a two-year freeze — that halted adjustments to their compensation based on the cost of living — comes to an end.

The change amounts to about $71,000 in total, according to a statement from the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly, and is part of the 2018-19 budget approved Tuesday.

Regular MLAs will see an increase of $1,662 per year in their basic salaries, while their constituency budgets will increase by about $1,400.

Members with additional responsibilities — chairs of a standing committees or cabinet ministers, for example — will receive a higher salary increase, according to Danielle Mager, public affairs manager at the legislature.

She added members are entitled to a non-taxable expense allowance as well.

Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne said the freeze was enacted in 2016 as a result of tough economic times — a local diamond mine had recently closed and the government was going through a period of spending reductions, he said.

"I think we were doing the right thing when we made this decision two years ago to freeze our salaries," said Vanthuyne.

"Now ... we're just going to go back to the way in which it was, and that is that we do receive an increase per the consumer price index annually."

The Legislative Assembly's website shows MLAs earn a salary of $103,851 per year.

However, some members earn additional income for extra duties.

The premier, for example, earns an additional $78,986 for his role while the Speaker earns an additional $45,203, according to the website.

Besides being adjusted annually for the rate of inflation — or consumer price index (CPI) — an independent commission reviews MLA compensation every four years.

In the final year of its term, the outgoing assembly will review any of the commission's recommendations to change compensation and allowances. It would then be implemented at the start of the new assembly, according to the statement from the legislature.

Unique protections for MLAs

However, Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) takes issue with that approach.

Todd Parsons, the president of the Union of Northern Workers, says it's not only MLAs who should have the wage protections they do. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

Parsons said the union supports wage increases based on CPI, but for all workers, not only for MLAs.

"There's also some uniqueness around protections that are afforded to MLAs," Parsons said, explaining his members don't enjoy the benefit of having their salaries reviewed every four years.

The end of the freeze comes as the UNW and N.W.T. government remain deadlocked after two years trying to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The union is now conducting a strike vote, while the territorial government has said it can't bend to the union's wishes because of stagnant revenues.

The Legislative Assembly will also begin contributing to MLAs pension plans again this year, as the plan's surplus is coming to an end, according to the statement from the legislature.

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