Soaring municipal pay criticized in provincial review

Divided cities need unified defence against unions, report advises government

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman.

A review of municipal pay levels ordered by the province recommends the government act to help rein in rapidly escalating wages among unionized civic workers and some administrators.

The report by consultants Ernst & Young, released by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, was conducted as part of the province’s core review launched last year.

It found unionized municipal workers received pay hikes totaling 38 per cent from 2001 to 2012 – twice as much as the 19 per cent in raises for unionized provincial government staff. Inflation over the same period was 23 per cent.

The report also notes several larger B.C. cities pay their chief administrators close to the $230,000 in pay and bonuses earned in 2011 by the average provincial government deputy minister, while that’s exceeded by city managers in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, as well as Metro Vancouver’s chief administrator.

The review didn’t consider whether city managers deserve the same pay as provincial deputy ministers, but said that should be investigated.

Provincial compensation restraint policies that began in 2008 with that year’s recession should be reviewed and updated to potentially serve as a broader philosophy extending across the public sector to municipalities, the review recommended.

“The government should do what is necessary to bring municipal government compensation into alignment over time, including financial levers if necessary.”

Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said he hopes city councils reform themselves and the province doesn’t need to take “extreme measures” like tying provincial grants to wage restraint.

“I would see that as a last resort,” he said.

The report suggested the province may find it harder to retain its own managers if cities pay more and Bateman said that makes the issue a legitimate concern for government.

“If municipal wages are going up fast and they’re grossly overpaying staff, it gets hard for the province to keep their employees in place,” he said.

Unlike limits on management pay imposed across the provincial government, local government compensation isn’t coordinated or regulated, the report said, and there’s no limit on what cities can decide to pay.

Collective bargaining by cities is generally “highly fragmented and inefficient,” the report observed, allowing unions to exploit their divisions.

“Unions can focus efforts on municipalities where outcomes are more likely to be favourable and use the resulting agreements to ratchet up increases in other municipalities.”

Metro Vancouver’s largest cities pulled out of the regional district’s joint bargaining arrangement in 2012 in favour of more local flexibility in negotiations.

“Without a coordinated response to organized labour, there is a real risk that unions can divide and conquer,” the report said.

The leak of the report to the CTF comes as municipal leaders prepare to gather in Whistler next week for the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, where the province usually faces a barrage of funding requests.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said in a statement the province has reached out to the cities via UBCM to explore practical tools and models that can help the entire public service deliver similar services at similar costs.

“We know many local governments are looking carefully at revenues and ideas for new revenue streams,” de Jong said. “They need to be looking equally closely at their expenditures.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cumberland is considering downtown densification proposals, and with that comes questions around parking, among other things. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Water bottling ban, parking key changes for Cumberland zoning

Bylaw on amendments still need adoption following March 2 hearing

Arzeena Hamir, working her booth at the Comox Valley Farmers Market. LUSH Valley was recognized last month as a partner of the year by the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets. Photo by Bill Jorgensen
LUSH Valley recognized for collaboration with Comox Valley Farmers’ Market

They won Partner of the Year award by the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets

Chelsea Harry was last seen Feb. 21. Photo via Comox Valley RCMP
Comox Valley RCMP seeking help locating a missing woman

Missing person last seen in Courtenay on Feb. 21

A Coast Range Cannabis store has been approved for the Crown Isle Shopping Centre in Courtenay. Photo submitted
Courtenay council approves seventh cannabis retailer

Coast Range Cannabis to open second store in the Comox Valley

A map of the Village Forest Lands near Cumberland. Image, Village of Cumberland
Cumberland adopts forest management direction statement

Less detailed than full plan, documents sets out decision-making for village-owned land

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s board is forwarding a motion on illegal dumping to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities’ upcoming annual general meeting. (Kane Blake photo)
Island communities asked to join forces in seeking help fighting illegal dumping

RDN resolution to be forwarded to Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Business owners expect months more of lost revenues

Protestors against old growth logging gather in front of the courthouse in Victoria on Thursday morning. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Protesters gather at Victoria courthouse to oppose Port Renfrew logging

Logging company seeks injunction to remove blockades near its Port Renfrew operation

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

Mid day at the Vancouver Port Intersection blockade on March 3, organized by the Braided Warriors. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
Anti-pipeline blockade at Vancouver intersection broken up by police

Demonstraters were demanding the release of a fellow anti-TMX protester

One person is dead after a camper van caught fire Thursday morning in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
One person dead after vehicle fire in Victoria park

Investigation into Beacon Hill Park death in early stages

(Government of B.C.)

Most Read