Each November, members of the legislature issue reports of their doings. And each time, we are reminded that there is nothing more sordid in politics than a closeup of the way our politicians conduct their internal affairs.
The first set of documents details the financial holdings of MLAs, along with a list of gifts they’ve pocketed. This year’s list raises the same questions we’ve been asking for years.
For example, why did Oak Bay MLA Andrew Weaver accept a $500 invitation to an exclusive dinner event, billed as “great food and fine wine”? The newly acclaimed leader of the B.C. Green Party said he went to hear an author whose work he admires, and it would have been “a little lavish” to stick taxpayers with the bill.
So instead, he took the freebie as a gift from energy giant Suncor. A suggestion, if we may: Forgo the feast and buy the author’s book (it goes for $18.02), or pay for the night out yourself.
Then again, why did Richmond-Steveston Liberal MLA John Yap allow a local business to buy him two tickets, worth $700, to a gala dinner and awards night?
But these documents are every bit as troubling for what they do not contain. Neither Premier Christy Clark nor any of her cabinet colleagues recorded a single gift.
It’s almost unavoidable that senior ministers on trade or diplomatic missions will be given official gifts. So why are none reported?
Conflict-of-interest regulations permit MLAs to accept presents if protocol requires it, but remaining silent is supposedly not allowed. Other curiosities raise their heads.
Municipal politicians who fail to report their financial holdings in full can be fined up to $10,000. That’s a serious incentive.
However, there is no penalty for provincial politicians who ignore this requirement. Why?
Hard on the heels of these documents, the legislative assembly produced a record of its own doings. The publication is called an “accountability” report, but “lack of accountability” would be closer to the truth.
For here, too, the contents are disturbing. Take the pension provisions our legislators enjoy.
MLAs and civil servants are members of the same pension scheme — the B.C. Public Service Pension Plan. You might expect that they’d all get the same treatment.
After all, pension plans are usually cut and dried, dictated on the one hand by a need for transparency, and on the other, by actuarial requirements. But that’s not the case here.
Under the plan, the government contributes about 10 per cent of each civil servant’s wage annually. But when it comes to MLAs, the employer pays 39.5 per cent — nearly four times as much.
In practice, since the legislature is the employer, taxpayers are shouldering this burden.
When public servants retire, they’re paid a pension equal to two per cent of their income for each year worked. But MLAs are paid at the rate of 3.5 per cent.
That means if the average MLA salary is $120,000 (taking special allowances into account), a member who serves two terms (or eight years) would retire with a pension worth $33,600.
Not bad for less than a decade of employment. (A government worker would get $19,200.)
What these documents show is that nothing of substance has changed. The reports have grown more detailed over the years, but that’s about it.
Otherwise, despite numerous critiques, our house of the people remains what it has always been: A house of the few and the privileged.