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Paying Municipal Councillors

Paying Municipal Councillors

THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO  ~~~~~~  March 27, 2021  (LSN)  Last Monday evening's Thunder Bay City Council Meeting was notable for a number of items - the shelving of the Multipurpose Turf Facility tender but not the project, the lack of a major and substantive discussion on the city's growing tax arrears problem - but especially for the operatic self-flagellation of councilors as they reluctantly approved their pay increase in a scene oddly reminiscent of the coronation scene in Mussorgsky's Boris Gudonov.  

The councilors finally convinced themselves to vote in favor of giving  themselves a pay increase that in the end will add about $3000 to a $200 million 2021 operating budget.  The crowning moment was the vote when 12 councilors voted in favor, but the Mayor in a grand gesture of fiscal rectitude and atonement for the increase in costs of the Turf Facility project to $46 million, voted no.  It was all really patently quite silly on a number of levels and perfect evidence that in the end, you get what you pay for even with municipal councilors.  

A couple of points.  First, at a base salary of $31,852 the salary paid to a City Councilor suggests that the job is really not very important and is something best taken up by people who either  have time on their hands, are desperate to supplement their income, perhaps are looking to make connections for their own private business interests, or are political careerists looking for a stepping stone to higher public office.  The purpose of being on Thunder Bay City Council should not be as a recruiting farm team for local political parties seeking provincial and federal candidates.

It is not that running for office is about the money but public office does involve a sacrifice of time, career and family and the current compensation is insufficient given the opportunity cost of what you need to give up to do the job effectively.  This means that in the end, while public service and commitment should be the main drivers of running for office, it is difficult to attract the best candidates especially given the character assassination involved that passes for a political campaign these days. If anything, the problem with Thunder Bay City Council is that for a city of just over 100,000 and twelve Councilors plus a Mayor, there is too much quantity and not enough quality.  A smaller council of eight councilors plus a Mayor would allow for compensation that better reflects the responsibility of the position and attract the caliber of person needed to make decisions on a municipal corporate budget of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Second, is the interesting message that City Administration has sent regarding what they recommend as an appropriate increase for councilors.  As it stands, the City Administration basically recommended that the raise should be tied to half the rate of inflation in the City for 2020 which was calculated at 0.55% based on an inflation rate of 1.1%. It is interesting that when putting forth budget proposals to the councilors, this same rule is not adhered to by City administration as historically the initial budgets proposed  have been well above the rate of inflation in the Thunder Bay.  Indeed, municipal employee pay increases in Ontario have even managed an exemption from current provincial legislation limiting public sector salary increases to 1 percent annually. In the end, why pay more to attract better candidates? City Administration in some respects has a vested interest in keeping the quality of city councilors where it is, as their lives would definitely become much more difficult if the quality of councilors increased.  

It really is a classic case of the bureaucracy completely capturing the legislative and policy process.  No doubt, the local community cable channel borrowing from the BBC would be well advised to produce and air a sitcom called Yes, Councillor.  The first episode could feature amusing discussions on staffing and pay increases between city managers and the councilors. On the other hand, this pretty much already occurs every Monday evening on the local cable channel.  We should look into getting Netflix to air the meetings -  as a revenue generating reality show.

#LSN_TBay #LSN_Opinion 

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The Northern Economist blog started on Shaw Webspace as commentary and analysis of economic issues and policy from a Northern Ontario perspective by Livio Di Matteo, Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. It had regular posts from November 2010 to February 2012. Posts continued on Northern Economist 2.0 until 2013 when I took an extended break. Occasional posts resumed effective December 2016. With Shaw terminating its blog space functions, I have archived the old posts at: northerneconomistarchive.blogspot.ca.

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