Conservatives fattened salaries of aides: report

Newly released documents suggest the Conservative government fattened the pay of some political staffers while the country was tackling an economic crisis in 2009.

Newly released documents suggest the Conservative government fattened the pay of some political staffers while the country was tackling an economic crisis in 2009.

In one case, a senior aide's salary was raised to $190,000 — $35,000 more than the maximum rate.

News of those bonuses comes two days after The Canadian Press revealed that, in the future, more staffers will become eligible for an increase in salary and separation benefits thanks to guidelines enacted this month.

The Treasury Board Secretariat, which oversees federal human-resources management, says in its guidelines for political staff that paying more than the maximum in a salary range should be a rare occurrence.

 Two years ago, those maximum rates were $121,000 for chiefs of staff to ministers of state, and $155,600 for a chief of staff to a full-fledged minister.

"As a general rule, the maximum salary range is reserved for employees with a relevant professional qualification, 10 or more years' relevant prior employment experience, or extraordinary skills and qualifications," reads the document.

 Paying someone more than the maximum would be an "exceptional circumstance," says the Treasury Board, and can only happen after consultation with the Prime Minister's Office.

But documents obtained under Access to Information legislation suggest it happened frequently.

After receiving a tip about the issue, The Canadian Press asked the Treasury Board to provide a summary of all instances where senior staff were paid more than the maximum salary rate.

The request specifically noted that names could be withheld, and did not ask for any additional documents.

The agency responded seven months later by withholding 50 pages of the summary, citing privacy issues and cabinet secrecy.

Following a complaint to the Information Commissioner, Treasury Board released the headings to one page of a summary table. But all other details were kept secret.

Only two salaries have been revealed from those documents: one for $190,000 and the other for $124,000.

At the time those salary exceptions were being made, the government was churning out a stimulus program to help get Canada through the economic downturn.

A spokesman for Treasury Board President Stockwell Day echoed the department's guidelines on the matter, but did not answer specific questions about the salary bumps.

"Exemptions to salary maximums are only granted in exceptional circumstances," said Michael Mueller.

"All salary exemptions are approved by the Treasury Board in accordance with the Policies and Guidelines for Ministers' Offices."

Last week, the maximum salaries for political staff were increased.

That means a chief of staff to a senior minister can now earn up to $168,000 without an exception. A press secretary can make up to $102,000.

Since political staffers' salaries are to be tied to those of public servants, all those at the various AS-levels are in line for a wage increase of 1.75 per cent this year, 1.5 per cent in 2012 and two per cent in 2013 — in accordance with a new collective agreement for the civil service.

The Harper government also approved a 50 per cent increase in the maximum separation pay political aides can receive -- up to six months from four. That's on top of severance pay.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has warned of more belt tightening within the federal government, as it seeks $4 billion-a-year in savings in order to balance the budget by 2014-15.