Vic Fedeli is at his desk at the Ontario legislature by 7:30 every morning. But the MPP for Nipissing won’t actually catch up on emails or paperwork until about 12 hours later, after he’s sat through Question Period, met with any number of stakeholders, gone to a finance committee meeting, attended a reception or two and maybe given a media interview. He’ll call his wife at around 10 p.m., when he leaves the office to walk back to his hotel. He’ll see her when he flies home to North Bay Thursday evening, but Fedeli will spend the weekend at Rotary Club dinners and ribbon cutting ceremonies — a dozen meetings this Friday alone — before returning to Toronto on Sunday evening to start all over again.
Fedeli, 55, figures he works 80-90 hours a week, not including travel time. He’s paid $116,550 a year. That’s less than the chief librarian in Ajax, Ont., or a fire training officer in Brampton. And unlike his cohorts, there’s no fat pension waiting for the burnt-out politician when he retires.
That’s a pretty demeaning pay-off for an office considered to be at the very heart of a democratic process we claim to hold so dear. And yet, rightleaning political parties in Alberta and Ontario, either in the midst of an election campaign or facing the prospect of one, want to further cheapen the already battered office by targeting provincial politicians’ paltry pay.
Danielle Smith, the popular libertarian leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, has never been elected to political office, but she’s already decided that members of the legislature in Canada’s most fiscally successful province make too much money. She is promising to roll back a 30% pay increase for cabinet ministers instituted back in 2008, and cut back-benchers pay by 5%.
In Ontario, the opposition Progressive Conservatives aren’t making fiery promises to cut politicians’ pay. Mike Harris, the polemical PC premier elected in 1995, already did that when he got rid of members’ handsome defined-benefits pension plan (the one the rest of the public sector still has). Too bad Ontario voters, who seem to remember in technicolour detail every one of Harris’s misdemeanors, still think MPPS retire with cushy pensions.
No, the Ontario PCS, who are prepping for a possible snap election should the minority Liberal government see its budget defeated in a vote on Tuesday, is pledging to hold ministers ''personally, financially responsible” for missing fiscal targets. I understand Conservatives are big on accountability, but what does that even mean? So the Deputy Minister, who makes $427,551 to the Minister’s $165,851 (as in the case of Ontario Health) and is responsible for implementing policies, is above reproach. But the Minister is treated like a child sent to sit in the corner and gets her pay docked? No other profession would stand for it.
Politicians have a hard enough time fighting public cynicism. What I don’t understand is why political parties are so willing to eat their young for the cheap political point. Rather than stoking the widely held and very destructive belief that politicians aren’t worth their mettle, political leaders, in their role as public educators, need to communicate the value and importance of public service. Can you imagine the head of the Canadian bar association arguing that lawyers are gouging their clients and their fees need to be cut?
That is not to say that Alberta doesn’t need to make MLA pay more transparent. The provincial election has been consumed by a scandal involving MLAS who were paid thousands of dollars to sit on committees that never met. The committee bonus is part of a complicated salary formula that also includes a base pay of $52,000 and a $26,000 taxfree expense allowance.
Countries such as Australia, which just passed a 30% pay hike for its MPS, are moving away from opaque entitlements to larger base pays; Alberta, which has commissioned a MLA pay review, is likely headed in that direction. But with an Alberta backbencher earning, according to the Canadian Tax Payer Federation, an average of $136,000, these are hardly the ''pigs at the trough” that Wildrose candidate Rob Anderson describes. Especially in a province where you can earn a cool $100,000 driving a truck in Fort Mcmurray.
''If you are a high-level manager, why would you ever take up this responsibility, these kinds of hours and do this to your family?” says MPP Fedeli, who worries that as a result of the poor pay, only two sets of individuals will be drawn to the public service; either the very wealthy — or lower wage earners who feel they’ve hit the ''jackpot.”
''You won’t have anybody in between, and that’s not healthy,” he says. ''The real middle that makes up the majority of Canadians is not going to be represented.”