“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” – Anatole France “Burden-sharing”
When Mr Prentice announced the 5% cut in MLA pay he sanctimoniously declared: “The term I’ve used is ‘burden-sharing’…no one can ask the taxpayers of this province to shoulder responsibility that those of us in government aren’t prepared to do first and foremost.”* Ahhh…the principle of “majestic equality”.
When Anatole France used the term he was being ironic; when Mr Prentice used its less eloquent equivalent he was not. Mr Prentice is setting the stage for yet another us-against-the-unions battle over pay packets…packets that we the people, as represented by our government, already agreed were reasonable.
Myths and facts Let’s check the myths of “burden-sharing” against the facts before we decide the unions have it coming to them:
Myth #1: Mr Prentice says public services are financed by $10 billion in oil royalties and the drop in oil royalties means that funding the public sector is “unsustainable”**
Not true: Public services are financed by general revenue (corporate taxes, personal taxes and royalties on oil, oil sands, natural gas and coal). Oil royalties are not “earmarked” for public services and a drop in oil royalties does not automatically result in a drop in public sector funding unless the Premier makes it so.
Myth #2: Public sector wages are 12% higher in Alberta than the rest of the country and must return to the Canadian average. Why? Mr Prentice touts Alberta as the “best province” in Canada with the highest GDP. Not surprisingly, private sector wages are 24% higher in Alberta than the rest of Canada. Shouldn’t the public sector be allowed to share in the “bounty” as well as the “burden”?
Myth #3: Ninety-seven percent of the public sector have defined benefit (“gold standard”) pensions but only 39% in the private sector does.
This may be true (who knows, it’s a Fraser Institute “fact”) but the Fraser Institute fails to consider other benefits offered by the private sector—including a 17% to 25% pay bump in some companies—to offset the loss of a defined benefit plan; nor did it mention that companies like TransCanada Pipeline, the builders of Keystone, have moved back to defined benefit pensions for their employees.
Myth #4: The 5% MLA wage cut demonstrates “leadership” on the part of the premier and the MLAs. Mr Prentice’s $218,000 salary will drop to $207,000. Other MLAs’ pay will drop from $200,000 to $190,000.
A moment please while we applaud Mr Prentice for forgoing $11,000 after making millions as a CIBC bank executive.
The sad truth is that even with the 5% pay cut MLAs will earn $100,000 to $150,000 more than the average registered nurse ($64,000), teacher ($58,000 to $99,000), paramedic ($65,000 to $95,000) or lab assistant ($28,000).
It is not “leadership” to fall on a paper sword.
Furthermore, two-thirds of the government’s revenue is in the hands of government appointed agencies, boards and tribunals (ABCs). Mr Prentice has not suggested that the ABC executives, some of whom earned between $635,000 and $3.4 million last year, cut their pay by 5%.
The public sector’s response (*raspberry*)
Mr Prentice is the latest in a long line of Tory premiers trying to deflect attention from Tory mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility by demonizing the public sector. Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, isn’t having any of it.
He says AUPE already agreed to a 0% increase in three out of the last five years—this equates to a 6% pay cut when you factor in inflation. AUPE shouldered the “burden” years ago while MLAs voted to increase their own salaries by 8% and paid themselves extra for not attending “no meet” committee meetings. All the while teachers taught in crumbling, overcrowded schools and healthcare workers worked in leaking, rodent infested hospitals under collective agreements they signed in good faith. They should not be pressured into “sharing the burden” (again!) with the idiots who got us here in the first place.
Under Mr Prentice’s leadership the rich as well as the poor will give up 5% of their pay. The rich won’t sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread; but the poor might have to.
Ahhh…majestic equality Tory style…
*Calgary Herald, Jan 30, 2015, A4