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Editorial: Raises damage Clark’s credibility

Premier Christy Clark’s decision to make big raises for political staffers a post-election priority is an early blow to her government.

Premier Christy Clark’s decision to make big raises for political staffers a post-election priority is an early blow to her government. The large pay jumps came after a campaign in which Clark and the Liberals talked about spending cuts and tough decisions and restraint.

But not, apparently, when it comes to political insiders.

The increases have sparked widespread anger. The cabinet order set pay scales, not individual salaries.

The premier’s chief of staff’s maximum pay jumped 18 per cent, to $230,000. (U.S. President Barack Obama’s chief of staff is paid $172,000.)

Ministerial assistants — political staffers assigned to cabinet ministers — and other designated political staff are eligible for a 7.9 per cent increase. Ministerial assistants will also now be called “chiefs of staff.” That’s a grandiose title, since there are typically just four or five staff members in a minister’s office.

And, most dramatically, the pay scale for the premier’s deputy chief of staff jumps 60 per cent, also to $230,000.

That job will be filled by Michele Cadario, the assistant manager of the B.C. Liberal election campaign, a former party fundraising director and longtime federal Liberal operative. It looks like a plum post for a political ally.

These increases come as the government maintains a 2010 compensation freeze for public-sector employees. (Some raises are possible if employee groups find ways to cut overall compensation costs.)

The government needs to be a competitive employer. But until the election, compensation for political staff was considered acceptable. If there was a problem, why was it not addressed then?

And where is the evidence supporting the increases — a publicly released market study that shows pay scales are below average, or that the government is failing to attract good people to political jobs?

In fact, the evidence shows the decisions were made without proper analysis. The cabinet initially increased ministerial-assistant pay by 11 per cent to $105,000. Within days, it reversed that order and reduced the ceiling to $102,000. That’s almost identical to MLAs’ base pay, and perhaps an indication of backbench unrest with the rich increases.

If the pay-scale adjustments had been made carefully and competently, a quick fix would not have been needed.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong tried to defend the increases. The overall budget for political staff is still $5.7 million, he said.

That’s no consolation to taxpayers. The government’s goal should be to deliver services as efficiently as possible, looking for savings.

Justifying big increases because the money is in the budget is irresponsible.

And Clark has refused to explain the increases in her office, or release information on how many people are getting raises as a result of the new pay scales.

The average weekly wage in British Columbia has increased about 28 per cent since 2003. Ministerial assistants’ pay scales are up 53 per cent in the same period. The average MLA compensation is up about 32 per cent, and the premier has gained about 60 per cent. Those in power and their allies are doing better than average British Columbians.

The total amount of money involved in these increases might not be large, but the damage they have caused to the new government’s credibility could be.

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