FREDERICTON – New Brunswick’s two main political parties are still negotiating a bill that will boost their own salaries, a tactic that critics are saying casts the assembly in a conflict of interest.
Government House leader Michael Murphy said there is no date scheduled for when a bill implementing a pay hike and restructuring of the politicians’ pensions will appear in the legislature. The Liberal cabinet minister said he is still in talks with the opposition over what will be included in the pending legislation.
“The fair compensation was outlined by Justice Ryan and after some discussions with the opposition we will find out if it is something they want to go forward with, with us. It is not something the government would be doing by any stretch by itself,” Murphy said.
Opposition House leader Bev Harrison said the assembly will be voting on the recommendations Peter Ryan, a retired judge and the province’s conflict-of-interest commissioner, made in his January report.
“We weren’t going to cherry pick (recommendations), why would you ask a man to make recommendations and then turn around and tear it all apart, which could be to your advantage or disadvantage,” Harrison said. “This case it is simply an issue of transparency.”
This was the province’s first review of legislative salaries and pensions since 1980. The Ryan commission recommended a fixed base salary of $85,000 for all politicians, eliminating the former arrangement that saw a salary of $45,347 and a non-taxable allowance of $22,534.44 that the commission calculated to be worth $36,438.
Ryan recommended that non-taxable portion be scrapped and made taxable. The report indicates the average MLA now receives $81,758, so the pay bump to $85,000 is equivalent to a 3.95 per cent bonus
The opposition house leader said there is nothing wrong with the MLAs who will be voting for the pay hike, benefiting from it. He said the problems arise if the politicians generate the amount of an increase and then approve it.
“In this case we simply are the only mechanism there is to move through what a private, third party has said,” Harrison said.
Charles Cirtwill, executive vice-president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said the politicians can claim all the transparency they want, but it doesn’t fix a broken system.
“It just puts everybody in an unfortunate situation whether it is transparent or not, it is still a conflict,” Cirtwill said. “I don’t even think it is a situation where it is an implied conflict of interest, I think it is an exclusive conflict of interest, whether or not they are voting on independent advice, they are ultimately making the final decision.”
The Liberal budget is setting aside an extra $765,000 for members’ allowances, committees and operations from what was spent last year, which represents $1.4 million more than was originally budgeted. So when the budget is passed the funding will be freed up once the necessary legislation is also approved.