Nova Scotia

PC MLAs block adding child-care fund, Mi'kmaw consultation to pay raise bill

Five PC MLAs voted against opposition attempts during Thursday’s meeting of the Nova Scotia legislature’s law amendments committee to add a child-care fund to the bill that blocks a pending politician pay raise.

All MLAs have indicated support for bill that will block pending pay raise

MLAs participate in a meeting of the legislature's law amendments committee on Thursday. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Five Progressive Conservative MLAs voted against opposition attempts during Thursday's meeting of the Nova Scotia legislature's law amendments committee to add a child-care fund to the bill that blocks a pending politician pay raise.

The bill making its way through the House will block a binding pay raise of 12.6 per cent recommended in a report by an independent remuneration review panel. It would have been the first raise for MLAs in about a decade. All three parties have said they support forgoing the pay raise.

The bill only deals with the pay raise, but New Democrat MLA Lisa Lachance noted that the report also makes non-binding recommendations intended to make the House more accessible to a more diverse group of people. Among the recommendations is a fund to cover child care for MLAs when they are doing House business and exploring why a seat reserved for a Mi'kmaw representative has never been filled.

"I'm disappointed, actually, that you would call this House back and actually not spend some time on the other critical issues being raised in that report, binding or not binding," Lachance said to Tory MLAs sitting across the table.

'A public relations stunt'

Tory MLAs Trevor Boudreau, Chris Palmer, Kent Smith, Dave Ritcey and Brad Johns, the committee chair, voted down Lachance's amendment. They also voted down a similar amendment by Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire, who, along with a call for a child-care fund, wanted consultation with Mi'kmaw legal scholars to examine why no one has ever filled the designated Mi'kmaw seat.

Maguire said he thinks the only reason Premier Tim Houston recalled the legislature to deal with the pay raise was to gain favour with the public. The government bill also includes a reduction of the premier's salary by about $11,200. Like Lachance, Maguire said he's worried the government isn't interested in dealing with the other recommendations in the report.

"This was a public relations stunt," he said. "I think [the government] thought they could come in and get a bump in the polls."

Tory MLA says work already happening

Smith said the government did not see the need to support a dedicated child-care fund for MLAs because a program to create universal affordable daycare is already in motion. He said he trusts his colleague Karla MacFarlane, the minister of L'nu affairs, to explore issues related to the dedicated Mi'kmaw seat.

Although Houston has said he thinks the non-binding recommendations are worth looking at, neither he, nor any of his caucus colleagues on Thursday, have provided a timeline for when that might happen. Opposition MLAs say they worry those matters will be forgotten without a commitment to act.

Before the debate on the amendments, the committee heard from two people about the bill.

Pay raise is reasonable

Hammonds Plains resident Tim Pratt said he's concerned that blocking the pay raise amounts to political gamesmanship that ultimately makes running for office more difficult for some people.

Pratt said the job of MLA is an important, difficult, labour-intensive task that requires compensation that reflects the seriousness of the office and makes it accessible to anyone who wants to put their name on the ballot.

"Being able to say, 'You know what, I'm going to step out of my role and take less money to serve,' is a position of privilege," he told the committee.

"You have to be able to have the means and the financial security in your home to be able to take that cut in pay that it would take to serve … We should understand that freezing wages is going to further exacerbate this problem."

MLAs make about $89,000 a year. The premier, party leaders, cabinet ministers and the Speaker of the House receive additional compensation.

Hammonds Plains resident Tim Pratt says MLAs freezing their own salaries and putting aside recommendations of an independent panel is politicizing the issue. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Pratt suggested that if MLAs don't want the raise they could donate the extra money, which amounts to about $11,000 a year, to charity. He said a further step that might address public concerns about MLA salaries would be to tie any increases to the amount income assistance rates go up.

"Income assistance has not kept up with the pace of inflation — not close — and all parties have had a chance to link this with something and no parties have done it."

The other presenter on Thursday was Jay Goldberg, the interim Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Goldberg commended MLAs on the decision to forgo the pay raise and cut the pay for the position of premier. He also called on MLAs to deal with the issue of bracket creep.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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