Sooke politicians get extremely low pay, and their remuneration has been frozen for a decade. The current elected body had an opportunity to talk about this, but because of a debate-killing motion (met by general spinelessness in an election year), discussion did not happen. In my mind, politicians have done the residents of Sooke a great disservice by refusing to discuss this.
Let me explain.
Municipal politicians are viewed by some as volunteers, acting out of the kindness of their heart in the best interest of the community in which they live. But even as volunteers, they do get some remuneration to compensate them for their service. When compared to similar-sized districts (see Table 1 below), Sooke remuneration is glaringly low. In Sooke, a Councillor receives $10,160 and the Mayor gets $20,321. We are scraping the bottom of the pay barrel. The second lowest paid politician serving a similar sized electorate receives a whopping 30% more than Sooke politicians.
Now, before we get all puffed up with outrage at this “excessive” spending on politicians, keep in mind that on a per person basis, we spend less than seven dollars per year, per resident, to cover their pay.
Politicians’ pay can be augmented through the CRD Director appointment, which in Sooke generally falls to the mayor. Remember the CRD-Directorship kerfuffle when Mayor Maja Tait went on maternity leave and Councillor Rick Kasper took over — and refused to relinquish the position when Tait came back from mat leave? (See this article and this article if you need a refresher.) There is money attached to that work; it wasn’t a just a battle to see who could be the most generous with their political time. In 2016, Kasper collected $16,714 from the CRD in salary, allowance and expenses, and Tait collected $7,468.
Sooke elected officials had the opportunity to discuss remuneration at the January 15 Regular Council meeting when an Elected Official Compensation Report (from Central Saanich — no, Sooke didn’t pay for it) was presented to them. It didn’t need to be a conversation about their own pay, but it could have been about the remuneration for the (hopefully new) incoming Council.
When Mayor Tait introduced the report, without a pause for any mental meanderings, Councillor Kasper promptly made the motion that the report be received for information. Equally quick to the draw was Councillor Kevin Pearson who seconded the motion.
At this point, a motion is “on the floor.” The only thing Council can discuss when a motion is “on the floor” is that motion itself. Any other conversation on the matter is effectively quashed. Council could not discuss a pay increase for themselves (bad for optics in an election year). Nor could they have discussed a “self-less” remuneration increase for the new Council (which is the best way around bad optics). They could only discuss whether or not they would receive the report. That’s it.
Do they deserve a raise? As a political observer and watchdog, I would have to say a resounding, “Hell Yeah!” They have to put up with relentless media scrutiny at least from Sooke PocketNews. And, they do more than most people think. They endure the following:
- Stupidly long public meetings three times a month (2 regular, 1 COW) and periodical special meetings (granted, summers are “off” but special meetings can be called, and “No, you don’t get paid more or extra for them”);
- 400+ page agendas, and you have to a) read it all in a weekend, and b) be able to make 8 to 20 expert decisions in one night;
- In-camera meetings you’re not allowed to talk about;
- Attending Union of BC Municipalities meetings throughout the year (one for BC, and one for Vancouver Island);
- Relentless media scrutiny (a necessary part of democracy);
- A plethora of arm-chair critics on social media;
- Happy people who don’t bother to thank you;
- Unhappy people who don’t bother holding back;
- An expectation to participate in (unpaid) committee work (when committees actually exist);
- An expectation to be involved in other (unpaid) initiatives, like health care matters, SEAPARC, library, highways, BC Transit, CRD issues, etc.;
- Site visits for developments, rezoning, land acquisitions and so on;
- Meetings with constituents, if you’re that type of person;
- Showing up at public events, whether out of genuine interest or just for the photo op; and
- A steep learning curving that will have you reading up on all of Sooke policies, bylaws, Official Community Plan, and related provincial legislation. For a taste of what one has to learn, review this Handbook for Municipal Councillors.
How much time does “politicking” suck from the edges of a person’s life? The mayor once indicated she puts in about 35 hours a week. Councillors are expected to put in less time than that, but the demands on their time can also be high (depending on their desired involvement).
Added to the list of responsibilities and the time that “politicking” takes, is the expenditures of running for Council in the first place. That can go into the thousands. Elected officials hoping to return Council have the advantage of name recognition. The less you are known, the more you will probably have to spend.
The District of Sooke has not increased the politicians’ remuneration in over a decade. During that time, Sooke has grown significantly (see Table 2). Issues have become more complex. The meetings cover more ground. The agendas grow forever longer. I believe that stagnating pay in the face of a growing population is a mistake.
I for one would happily double my annual contribution to sweeten the pot and get some fresh faces in Council, post October 2018.
I’m tired of getting my money’s worth, of getting what I’m paying for. I’m willing to toss in more to go toward politicians’ pay. Sooke deserves better.
Table 1: Annual breakdown 2016 of BC Districts of similar size
Table 2: Population growth
Also from the January 15 2018 Regular Council Meeting
- Groundwork being laid for more housing in Sunriver
- Opinion: After a 10 year pay freeze, an increase for municipal politicians is long overdue
- Sooke Council supports private community initiative to appreciate local RCMP
- Habitat for Humanity presents their intent to provide affordable Sooke housing to Council
- Sooke Council orders staff to re-tender the Murray staircase contract