Posted January 10, 2014
The government has appointed a three person committee to review how MLA’s are compensated. Top priority should be given to reviewing MLA pensions.
The report on compensation after the 2006 election looked only at the cash portion and focused primarily on comparisons with other provinces. It rewarded MLA’s with a handsome increase of over 20%, to $79,500. With indexing to inflation in subsequent years it has now grown to $89,235. Party leaders, cabinet members, and others in leadership roles make considerably more.
There was no report on salaries after the 2009 election. But in 2011 a separate review was commissioned on the pensions that are provided to MLA’s. Nova Scotia was then even higher than the extremely generous pensions offered to MLA’s in other provinces.
The panel welcomed input and was heavily influenced by a robust array of submissions from present and past MLA’s. Unsurprisingly they did not want any change.
Although the 2011 panel trimmed the rate at which future benefits accrued they still left MLA’s with benefits worth perhaps twice as much as those available to civil servants and teachers. The benefits for civil servants and teachers are among the best available to Nova Scotians. Sixty percent of Nova Scotians have no pension plan at all.
The panel devotes quite a bit of its report to the demands faced by MLA’s. They rightly point out that, in addition to time spent in the legislature, MLA’s spend many nights and weekends talking to constituents and attending community events. Not all of the discussions are pleasant.
So while it is true that almost all MLA’s earn more than they ever had before, it is also true that most work extremely hard, in employment which has very low job security. We should not begrudge our MLA’s their salaries.
The 2011 report then talks about the challenges faced by former MLA’s as they reintegrate into the workforce. Here the panel lost its way:
“The retired MLAs who made submissions to the Review Panel frankly detailed the impact of the interruption on their careers when they tried to return to their pre-MLA work… Years served as an MLA… did not really serve as “relevant past experience” when attempting to reintegrate into the work force in their post-MLA life. For many, it was not an easy transition and it took a long time to return to the pre-MLA career level…”
The panel’s response to these no doubt sincere representations was deeply flawed.
The difficulty described might be quite relevant if the ex-MLA had given up a promising career as a rising corporate executive or partner in a professional services firm.
That is not the profile of MLA’s elected in 2009. There were no MLA’s with senior private sector leadership experience, no accountants or others with a substantial financial background, no doctors, architects, or engineers.
Out of 52 MLA’s there were fourteen teachers, seven who had always worked in politics, five small business operators, four journalists, three civil servants, and three health care workers. Almost 60% came from the public sector.
For most of them the transition back to previous jobs is relatively less difficult. Members of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union have a contractual right to resume their career no matter how long they have been away from it. So do civil servants if they only serve one term.
Secondly the need for support varies dramatically by age. A politician first elected at age 55 probably has no intention of going back to his or her previous job after politics. For younger retirees the pension is not relevant to transition. It is received long after the need for that support has come and gone
Thirdly, there are other supports provided to ex-MLA’s. They each receive a transition allowance of roughly one month’s salary for each year of service plus $7,500 for retirement or career counselling, or retraining services. This is the right kind of tool to facilitate re-entry to a previous career.
Perhaps the problem with the 2011 panel was that it was only asked to look at pensions, and therefor only had them to consider as a tool.
Fortunately the 2014 panel has a much broader mandate, including salaries, benefits, pensions, travel, and constituency allowances for MLAs.
The new panel should provide adequate salaries for our MLA’s, reflecting the substantial demands of the job. Secondly it should make sure that the transition supports for departing MLA’s provide appropriate support, having regard to age and circumstances.
Having done that there is no reason to provide an excessive pension. The cost of pension entitlements should be within the range provided in the public sector. MLA’s could participate in the civil servant plan or one of similar design.
The new approach should apply to all the newly elected members and to future accruals for returning members.
In response to the MLA expense scandals a number of good changes were made to MLA financial arrangements. To finish the job it is crucial that pensions be brought into line.
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