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Budget 2021 must end MP pay hikes

Author: Franco Terrazzano 2021/04/16

A severe economic downturn is no time to throw taxpayers on the hook for politician pay raises. Even our members of Parliament should know that.

But while millions of Canadians continue to struggle through COVID-19, MPs pocketed their second pay raise during the downturn on April 1. Fortunately, MPs can right this wrong and reverse these pay hikes in the federal budget that will be introduced on April 19.

MPs are eligible for raises each year on April 1, based on the average annual increase in private-sector union contracts with corporations that have 500 or more employees.

After this April’s pay hike, each MP is set to rake in $6,900 more than they did pre-pandemic, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will receive an extra $13,800 annually.

Federal politicians are already extremely well-paid. A backbench MP is set to receive $185,800 this year, placing them squarely in the top two per cent of income earners in this country. Trudeau is set to receive $371,600.

The world our MPs are living in has become detached from the reality facing the people they are supposed to represent. For the Canadians who have taken a pay cut, lost their job or their business, these MP pay raises land like a slap in the face.

While MPs should have immediately halted their pay automatic pay raise, similar to what was done in Alberta, there’s still time for the government to do the right thing in this budget.

In response to the 2008-09 recession, the feds’ 2010 budget set the wheels in motion to halt the automatic pay raises.

“In this budget we will also take action to ensure government lives within its means,” said former finance minister James Flaherty while announcing the MP pay freeze in his 2010 budget speech. “Canadian families and businesses have accepted the need for restraint.

“Fairness requires that government too should have to keep costs under control.”

Other politicians have already recognized the importance of sharing in the burden.

“We acknowledge New Zealanders who are reliant on wage subsidies, taking pay cuts and losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. “I can confirm that myself and government ministers and public service chief executives will take a 20 per cent pay cut for the next six months.”

In Ontario, provincial politicians’ pay has been frozen since 2009. In Alberta, all MLAs took at least a five per cent pay cut in 2019 and one MLA is now pushing his colleagues and top bureaucrats to take a 20 per cent cut. At the municipal level, councillors in Halifax, Lethbridge and Burnaby took pay cuts during COVID-19.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation supporters have received correspondence from more than 100 MPs, from Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats, who either don’t support this year’s automatic pay raise or have committed to donating the raise to charity.

With all these MPs across party lines seemingly against pocketing a pay raise, why are taxpayers still waiting for them to get off their butts and fix this inequity? Afterall, it’s been more than a year, and two pay raises, since COVID-19 touched down in Canada.

While the automatic salary bump is meant to keep politicians’ pay out of the political process, it shouldn’t stop MPs from reducing their pay when taxpayers clearly need a break. Fortunately, budget 2021 gives politicians the opportunity to do the right thing and show solidarity with struggling taxpayers who are paying their cheques.

Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director and Renaud Brossard in the Quebec and Interim Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

This column was originally published in the Toronto Sun on Apr. 16, 2021.