As 2021 kicks off, Kelowna, B.C., city councillors are set to get a pay bump during the pandemic, and it’s not sitting well with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“Right now, working people who are outside of the government realm have been kicked in the teeth and they’ve been kicked in the teeth for almost an entire year,” said Kris Sims, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s B.C. director. “Most of us in the private sector have had salary reductions.”
“If we’re really all in this together, that means politicians do not get pay raises. And they need to fix this right now,” she added.
Kelowna city councillors currently earn about $37,000 a year. The mayor’s salary sits around $110,000 annually.
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“For city councillors, that’s mid-range (salaries) for a mid-range-sized city that Kelowna is, that’s OK. The mayor earning more than $100,000, that’s starting to get up there,” Sims said.
The automatic pay increase is based on the consumer price index for Vancouver, which is released by Statistics Canada.
The number for this year won’t be announced until Jan. 20, but up until November, it was about 1.2 per cent year over year, according to Statistics Canada.
However, even though the pay raise is considered automatic, Sims noted that city council has the power to change the bylaw.
Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said an independent third-party task force did a salary review nine years ago, and council followed the recommendation for an automatic increase.
“There will be critics, absolutely,” Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said. “And to those critics, I would say that as a result of the pandemic, council’s workload hasn’t changed. And in fact, I’d say it’s probably the work has gotten harder.”
The mayor said he doesn’t plan to make any changes to the automatic council pay increase at this point.
“While I appreciate the pandemic has negatively impacted a lot of people, there’s also a lot of people who have seen either their pay increase or their business has been very lucrative as a result of the pandemic,” Basran said.
“And there’s been a big swath of people who haven’t been impacted at all,” he added.
While it’s unfortunate that people have been impacted by the pandemic, Basran said there are government programs in place to help.
City councillor Mohini Singh said the automatic increase was brought in to get the politics out of the increase.
“It’s tied to the cost of living,” she said. “We oversee a corporation of $550 million and that comes with huge responsibility.”
“So from a corporate point of view, this pay raise is not seen as a big money grab, it’s just a tiny stipend,” she added.
Singh said she personally plans to give her pay increase to the Kelowna Firefighters Charitable Society.
“We’re all going through some difficult times. This has been a tough year for many families, so my thought is whatever tiny bit I get, I will donate it back to a local charity,” Singh said.
Sims said that although it’s a step in the right direction, it’s still not enough when other city councils like Burnaby and Vancouver have voted to take a pay cut.
–with files from Shelby Thom