Letters to the Editor -
The Members' Compensation Review Committee is looking at the salaries, allowances, severance payments and pensions of MHAs. It will be holding meetings throughout the province at which members of the public can make representations. The committee will also be accepting written submissions until August 28.
Citizens of this province now have the opportunity to influence the behaviour and selection of the people that govern us. The role of a provincial politician is the most important role of any in our province. They are the people that determine our laws and the policies we all live by. I believe it is incumbent on all citizens to try to affect the selection of politicians that will put the well being of the people of the province as their top priority.
Recent events such as the constituency allowance scandal, where millions of dollars were inappropriately used (alcohol purchases, personal travel, and donations, to name a few) over the years by 108 of 115 politicians investigated, would seem to leave something more to be desired in our politicians.
Information coming out of the current corruption trial of former MHA and cabinet minister Jim Walsh also sheds light on the priorities of some of our politicians.
According to John Noel, clerk of the House from 1991 until 2006, a secret bonus of $2,1870 was paid to all but two MHAs in 2004.
Mr. Noel also noted that although members may be on opposing parties, when it came time to give themselves benefits he stated. "It was a fairly chummy relationship...there was never any dispute whenever members' allowances were increased."
According to the St. John's Telegram, former Speaker of the House Harvey Hodder noted at the Walsh trial that when he (Hodder) tried to tighten spending controls MHAs from both parties frustrated his efforts by putting, to quote Hodder, "significant obstacles" in his way. He also noted, "There was, in hindsight, a sense of entitlement that had perhaps gone too far."
In May 2007, the Hon. J Derek Green, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador issued a report dealing with the constituency scandal and MHA compensation. In his report there is some interesting information that should influence anyone making a recommendation concerning MHA salaries.
In the report it was noted the 2006 salary of Newfoundland and Labrador MHAs was $90,946. In my opinion, this is a very generous sum. As a matter of fact, too generous. Attention was drawn to the fact that Newfoundland and Labrador MHAs rank 5th highest among 13 provincial and territorial jurisdictions. Even wealthy Alberta and British Columbia are behind this province.
When it comes to comparing our MHAs' compensation with ordinary citizens, our politicians do extremely well. It could well entice a person to try to get elected just for the salary rather than serve the people, as our politicians always claim they do.
The 2005 average provincial family, not individual, but family income was $51,500.
The 2005 average Canadian family income was $62,700.
According to Statistics Canada in 2005 approximately 97 per cent of individuals in NL earned less than our MHAs.
In 2005, 95 per cent of individuals in Canada earned less than our MHAs.
Given these facts, and following the principles of transparency and accountability, which are absolute musts, if we want people to have a belief that our politicians really are looking after the people's interest and not their own shameful self interest as I related in the earlier part of this letter, my recommendation to the committee reviewing MHA compensation will be the following.
MHAs compensation will be the average of the nine other provinces. Any increase above the Canadian average will only happen when the average salary of the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador is above the Canadian average. These measures will weed out those whose main interest is to be in the top five per cent of earners in Canada and reduce the unconscionable salary disparity between citizen and politician.
I guess the common expression, "keep it simple stupid," would be a good guiding principle for the MHA compensation committee to follow.