Somewhere between 10 and 15 people attended last week’s information session for possible candidates for the next municipal election. The session was hosted by Carolyn Mushata, Chief Election Officer for the District of Sooke.
The most silencing moment was when Mushata laid out the number of hours elected officials typically have to contribute in order to be effective, which could range from 40 to 70. Per week. (Current mayor Maja Tait told SPN that she puts in an average of 60 hours a week.)
There’s a lot of reading and, especially at the beginning, a lot of learning.
Regular Council meetings have agendas that are frequently 250-350 pages. Besides reading them, Councillors are expected to intellectual debate the issues and make informed decisions. Councillors are also expected to sit on at least two other committees and boards (CRD, SEAPARC, Library, Transit, Healthcare, SPA, Affordable Housing, Finance and Admin, Development, and others), attend Committee of the Whole meetings, participate in workshops, and know policy and procedures and bylaws inside out.
On first being elected, said Mushata, the learning curve is steep. Some meetings can start at 6:00 pm and wrap up at 11:00 pm. Councillor Brenda Parkinson, the only elected official on hand, said she was involved in about nine different components at the District.
In addition to the reading is the toll of public scrutiny, which has extended far beyond traditional media and has been enthusiaticly embraced by armchair critics on social media (SPN phrasing).
In return for this contribution and excessive scrutiny, councillors get paid just over $10,000 per year, and the mayor gets just over $20,000 per year. Additional remuneration is available from sitting on select (not all) committees. The last time the pay for elected officials was increased was in 2008. They also don’t get benefits, or sick leave, or employment insurance coverage.
The money spent on wages is relatively small. The annual per-person cost to cover the wages of Sooke’s elected officials is $6.25 (corrected, thanks Lee!), or $0.12 per week.
This high level of contribution accompanied with low remuneration automatically puts a number of people out of the running, including many entrepreneurs, students, actively engaged parents, and people who work full time. It also instantly excludes many people who are on the a financial tightrope (one in four Canadians are financially stressed, with the average Canadian owing $1.76 for every dollar earned) who have to put efforts toward a landing that second job, or a better paying job.
Who’s left? We’ll leave that for you to answer.
A question came from the floor, which was (paraphrased here:) “What is the least amount of time one could get away with?” The answer to that, for those interested, is that once you miss four consecutive meetings in a row, without previously seeking permission from Council, Council can then initiate a dismissal, which involves lawyers and a by-election. In other words, impeaching a Councillor is relatively rare.
So, to recap, an informed elected official puts in at least a full-time schedule and gets $10,000 (ish) per year, slackers can periodically show up and get the same pay.
The next council will be setting the stage (policy, procedures and bylaws) for the future. Sooke is expected to double it’s population in the next 20 years.
Based on the palpable reaction from inside that room last night, a number of potential candidates just dropped out of the race.
- Opinion: After a 10 year pay freeze, an increase for municipal politicians is long overdue
- Sooke’s elected officials’ remuneration stays the same, CAO ranges magnificently