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B.C. Liberals ask government to cancel MLA pay raises next year

The increases, which are tied to inflation, could total up to an extra $10,000 for MLAs, who earn $115,000 a year in basic compensation.
The fountain in front of the B.C. legislature. A similar MLA salary freeze was approved in the first year of the pandemic. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The B.C. Liberals asked the ­government Thursday to freeze next year’s MLA salary hikes, which are tied to inflation, in light of rising prices for gas, groceries and rent.

The increases could total up to an extra $10,000 for MLAs, who earn $115,000 a year in basic compensation. Those who hold a ministerial or parliamentary position earn more.

Finance Minister Selena ­Robinson said the government will consider the request. A ­similar freeze was approved in the first year of the pandemic.

“Life has never been more unaffordable in British ­Columbia,” said B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone, who plans to introduce a private member’s bill next week calling for the freeze.

“At times like this, ­British Columbians expect their elected officials, their MLAs, to lead by example.”

MLAs are exempt from the wage guidelines that govern other public-sector ­workers. Instead, their annual pay increase is indexed to inflation on April 1 each year according to the Consumer Price Index.

Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar noted that the raise for a cabinet minister is ­“significant” and could amount to an extra $15,000 a year, a hike the average British Columbian is not likely to see next year.

“This Thanksgiving we will have the most families in the country forced to make changes to their Thanksgiving meals because they can’t afford the cost of food,” said Milobar.

Robinson said she would take the wage freeze idea up with deputy premier Mike Farnworth “to consider the proposal.”

Farnworth said MLA salary and benefits for the following year are set by an independent body at the end of each year based on the Consumer Price Index. The 2023-2024 salary increases can be overridden at the Legislative ­Assembly ­Management Committee ­meeting at the end of this year, when ­budgetary proposals for the next year are considered, he said.

At that time the committee will know what the ­inflation rate is, because it changes throughout the year, “and a ­decision will be made,” he said.

As government house leader, Farnworth sits on the committee along with the Speaker, the chair of the government caucus, a cabinet minister, the opposition house leader and the chair of the opposition caucus.

Farnworth said the finance minister has already approached him about the cost-of-living increase.

He called the Opposition’s wage-freeze proposal grandstanding in the absence of policy proposals.

In a phone interview following question period, Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said she supports the wage-freeze proposal. “I think it’s important for MLAs to recognize where ­British Columbians are right now is really struggling with cost of living, with meeting basic needs,” she said.

“As in 2020, I supported us freezing our salaries at the beginning of the pandemic, and I support it now.”

While the move will not solve the affordability crisis, she said, “it is an indication of our ­awareness of how serious this crisis is for British Columbians.”

Furstenau said she also wants to hear a plan from ministers on what the government intends to do about increases to ­executive-level salaries in the public service.

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