Salaries are always a touchy subject, so in today’s culture only a braggart would tell you what he earns. But when one holds public office one’s salary is a matter of public interest and is available for public scrutiny. As such, we know that Toronto City councillors will receive an increase in their pay packet starting today.
Councillors have not seen an increase for the past 18 months and held off taking one until after contract negotiations were settled with the city’s inside and outside workers. Penny-pinching Mayor Rob Ford also influenced Council’s decision to hold off on a salary increase last year.
Now councillors will receive a salary increase retroactive to Jan. 1 this year based on a policy adopted in July 2006 to let annual inflation rates decide their raise. That has resulted this year in a three per cent increase based on the Statistics Canada consumer price index, moving councillors’ annual salary to $102,608.
We could look at this increase in the context of recent negotiations with other city workers. The police will receive an 11.5 per cent increase over four years; inside and outside workers 6 per cent over four years and a 6 per cent increase for Toronto Transit workers over three years.
Ford, who already donates his current salary of $167,770 to charity, has reportedly said he will not take his $5,033 increase. Some councillors plan to donate their increase as well.
It is fair game to question the salaries of all public servants. However, begrudging politicians a salary increase – just because we can – is a bit mean-spirited. Who among us does not look forward to – or would reject – an annual pay increase? We expect elected officials to be on call 24-7, especially in the event of significant developments. Most of us do not have such responsibilities. And we depend on them to provide an environment in which we can work and play in relative safety, among other things. Surely that must be worth something. Again, how many of us have such responsibilities?
If people who aspire to public office are treated with contempt regarding their pay, should we be surprised if public office does not attract the kind of people we would like to see filling those roles? Toronto City Council is the sixth largest government in Canada. It is a $12-billion a year corporation. Underpaying councillors for a demanding and complex job could result in the unintended consequence of attracting only those who are either poorly qualified or desperate, or rich enough that a salary isn’t an issue, like Ford. Is that what we want?
Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, are wealthy enough so that they can afford to forego their salaries, choosing instead to give the money to charity. That is wonderful. Most councillors are not rich and choose to serve for all the right reasons. They shouldn’t be penalized for that. Then again, when one is as rich as the Fords, there might be some tax benefits in donating their salaries to charity. We’re just saying.
Do we really want to be left with the option of only the rich or retired people with comfortable pensions stepping up to public office? Not everyone has the support of a family business with $100-million in annual revenue on which to rely.
Which brings up another point; if the mayor and his brother, the CEO of a successful family-run printing business, are foregoing their salaries from the city, they obviously are getting their income from the business. They have so far managed to keep information on their income from the business confidential. However, given questions about holes in the mayor’s daily itineraries and the fact that itinerary is usually kept fairly confidential, could the brothers be spending some of their time attending to the family’s business instead of the city’s business? It is a fair question. If the company is paying Rob Ford, what is he doing to earn that salary? And are we O.K. with a part-time mayor if that is what he is?
In any case, the only concern we would have regarding Council’s formula for its own rate of increase is that linking it to inflation seems to be pretty unstable. Is this the best they could come up with? What happens if the rate of inflation goes to 5 per cent or drops to 1 per cent? Shouldn’t councillors also enjoy the benefits of a formula that allows them to plan their lives like the rest of us? And if the aim is budget stability, the current formula might need a rethink.