An attempt to freeze an upcoming pay increase for Calgary city councillors was withheld from the agenda at Monday’s council meeting.
The notice of motion to freeze councillors salaries was brought forward Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean, who tried to have it added to the meeting as an item of urgent business.
According to McLean, council is set to receive a salary increase of between one and three per cent on Jan 1, 2022.
“The reason I considered it urgent business is because we just recently heard we’re getting a pay raise in January,” McLean told reporters. “With the economic climate of Calgary right now, with everybody else struggling… I don’t think it was right of us to take a raise at this time.”
How much council is paid is determined by the Council Compensation Review Committee, a committee of five citizens with human resources backgrounds that recommended automatic pay increases over the term based on Statistic Canada data of average weekly earnings in Alberta.
Those recommendations were approved by the previous council in November 2020.
The previous council also froze pay increases each year since 2019.
According to the Council Compensation Review Committee, city council compensation costs $1.44 per capita every year.
A Calgary city councillor could’ve made $113,526 based on the 2020 base pay, with the mayor’s base pay sitting at $200,586.
Calgary’s mayor said she wasn’t in favour of adding McLean’s motion to the agenda as an urgent item of business.
“I think what’s coming to us today is a quick decision when this is, in fact, a bigger issue,” Jyoti Gondek told council.
Gondek asked McLean if he would consider adding the item as a more fulsome notice of motion for a future council meeting to debate the role of the citizen-led committee, and how council has been “intervening” in setting its own salary in the past.
The mayor’s ruling was challenged by Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness, who sought clarity as to why the pay bump on Jan. 1 wouldn’t be considered urgent while council decided to debate support for a legal challenge against Quebec’s Bill 21 as urgent business.
“(Bill 21) has gone through the courts, has a decision, and anything we do is going to come in the new year,” Wyness said. “We have one that’s coming with a decision today to be approved, so I’m just trying to figure out what’s urgent and what’s not.”
Gondek defended her position and said the urgent business around Bill 21 was brought forward by several councillors with work and collaboration behind it, while the salary motion “was sprung on us at the last minute.”
“In my opinion, there’s a more fulsome discussion to be had around this one, and that’s why I’m not accepting it as urgent,” Gondek said.
Adding a motion as urgent business requires a two thirds majority vote.
Gondek’s ruling was upheld in a nine-to-six vote with councillors Chu, Sharp, Chabot, McLean and Wyness opposed.
“The only thing that is urgent here is that council specifically, and politicians in general, get on board with the idea that we should have absolutely nothing to do with how we’re compensated,” Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said.
“If you want to address how council is compensated, we have to address the system, we can’t address the specifics.”
City manager David Duckworth also told council that if a decision to freeze the pay increase came down early next year, it would be possible for the city to make those changes retroactively to Jan. 1.
McLean said although he is disappointed there wasn’t a discussion on the matter on Monday, he said it is possible the motion could be brought back at the committee level early next year.
“I would have liked to have seen a healthy debate but it was blocked before it was brought forward,” McLean said.