Your local MLA may be getting a slight raise if the Liberal government heeds the advice of an independent commissioner.
But it’s Premier Shawn Graham, his ministers, whip, and speaker, and even his main opponent — the leader of the official Opposition — who are in line for the most significant raises.
In his report on the compensation of members of the legislature, which was released yesterday, Conflict of Interest Commissioner Patrick A.A. Ryan recommended that the Premier of New Brunswick receive a raise of $18,265, bringing his annual indemnity up to $79,000, in addition to his base salary as an MLA.
Added to Ryan’s recommendation that every member of the New Brunswick legislature see their pay increased to $85,000, the premier’s total annual pay cheque would sit at $164,000, which would fall just short of the salaries of the premiers of Nova Scotia ($165,487), Alberta ($166,554), and well above the premiers of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Government ministers would see an increase of $12,124, the leader of the Official Opposition would receive an extra $14,810, while the speaker of the legislature would receive a $22,245 raise.
On top of the 3.94 per cent raise for MLAs, Ryan also recommends that the $22,534.44 non-taxable allowance that MLAs currently receive be converted to the equivalent taxable amount of $36,438. In addition to that tax-free allowance, MLAs currently receive a base indemnity of $45,347 for what would be a total of $81,758 total taxable revenues.
Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec are the only other provinces across Canada that still pay their MLAs with a tax-free allowance.
Former speaker Eugene McGinley said the Liberal government would respond to the recommendation without undue delay, but wouldn’t offer a solid timeline. He said he expects that New Brunswickers will welcome the recommendation to remove the non-taxable portion of MLAs salaries.
“Anything that will make it more transparent will make it more acceptable to the public, and I think that has been one of the criticisms, where transparency at times may have been lacking,” said McGinley.
John Williamson, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation applauded the recommendation to scrap the tax-free allowance.
“If law makers are going to pass laws and raise taxes they should be subject to those taxes as well,” said Williamson.
“It is a change that has been followed in many other provinces because it allows voters to know how much MLAs are getting paid without having to figure out what a tax-free portion is.”
Williamson said the Liberal cabinet should accept the recommendation as they have been presented without adding any amendments that could be seen as money grabs.
“One thing that happens with these reforms sometime is that politicians get rid of the tax-free allowance and boost their pay to an unreasonable level,” he said.
“This does not appear to be the case, the government should accept this salary level without making any amendments.”
The report suggest mandatory sanctions against MLAs who are absent from their duties without reason, a reform Williamson calls positive. The report also suggests that MLAs who don’t like the new pay structure can hold on to their current form of payment under a “grandfather” rule.
Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies believes allowing MLAs to opt out of the new pay structure would reduce the transparency gained by the reforms.
“No one ever gets a good sense of what exactly the compensation package is because you have to build in not only their salary but what their benefits are, what their travel arrangements are, and what their pension arrangements are and how that compares,” he said.
“Just tinkering around with their salary isn’t enough to give you a sense of whether they are properly compensated or not, and certainly you shouldn’t have three or four different models of compensation for people doing the same job.”
The recommended increases are roughly based on the relative increase in New Brunswick salaries compared to the national average over the past two decades, during which time MLAs salaries have been only slightly revised.