MONTREAL — The Quebec government is considering a bill that could see members of the legislature get a substantial increase in their base salary and make them the country’s best-paid provincial politicians.
The proposal is essentially the result of recommendations in a report from retired Supreme Court justice Claire L’Heureux-Dube on how to improve their pay conditions.
Under the plan, the base salary would climb to $140,000 from $90,000, although the hike would kick in at the earliest in 2018 and only if the bill passes unanimously in the national assembly.
Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier argues the eye-popping salary numbers wouldn’t mean an additional burden on taxpayers because politicians will assume responsibility for funding a greater share of their pension plan.
“There are savings of $400,000 yearly — some $4 million over 10 years,” Fournier said.
Fournier says eliminating $16,000 in tax-exempt earnings, boosting the share of politicians’ pension contributions to 41 per cent from 21 per cent, cutting certain allowances and making changes to collective insurance would offset any such pay hike.
But Quebec’s proposed move comes amid austerity measures and deep cuts that have affected the public as well as during tense labour negotiations with government employees.
Additionally, some legislators in other provinces such as Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick voted to freeze their salaries in 2015 or actually reduced them.
Opposition parties in Quebec City say the optics of a raise for politicians are not good, with Parti Quebecois house leader Bernard Drainville calling the idea “indecent.”
“How could members of the national assembly justify increasing their salary when teachers and nurses and other members of the public service are being offered so little?” he said.
“I’m afraid the taxpayer is not going to put much stock in the conclusions of the report and all they’re going to do is look at the hefty increase in the current context.”
Right now, the $90,000 number puts Quebec in the middle of the pack in terms of base pay. Four Canadian jurisdictions have salaries of more than $100,000, with the highest-paid provincial politicians being in Alberta, at $127,000.
The Coalition for Quebec’s Future argues the bill doesn’t respect the results of a 2014 vote in the legislature when officials voted they should pay 50 per cent of their pension contributions, with the public assuming the other half.
“We’ve adopted laws in the last few months, particularly in the municipal world, where employees are responsible for 50 per cent of their pension,” said Benoit Charette, the Coalition’s critic for democratic reform. “We said it’s nonsense to apply sacrifices to others that we are not prepared to place on ourselves.”
In December, the legislature voted to do away with transition bonuses for assembly members who depart mid-term, with the exception for those who leave for health reasons.
The move was prompted by the departure of several politicians who walked away with a hefty bonus despite choosing to quit.