COMMENT: Time for changes to MLA pensions and perks
Reforms to the MLA pension plan, living allowances and meal per diems should be among the top New Year’s resolutions B.C. MLAs make this season, according to IntegrityBC.
IntegrityBC is calling for an independent panel to review and make recommendations on existing MLA benefits which need to be seen in the context of a salary that already places them in the top five percent of B.C. income earners.
MLAs are also the second highest paid provincial legislators in Canada, third highest if tax free allowances given to MLAs in Quebec are included.
“No one expects an MLA to subsist on Kraft Dinner, couch surf or give up a pension plan,” said IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis. “It isn’t about nickel and diming, it’s about leading by example and striking the right balance between the costs of being an MLA with existing public and private sector policies.”
In 2007, the B.C. government changed MLA pension plan contributions from a system where taxpayers contributed $1 for every $1 put in by MLAs to a plan where taxpayers now contribute $4 for every $1 put in by MLAs.
While MLAs deserve a pension plan that is reasonable, taxpayers deserve a plan that is equitable and the province should follow the federal lead where the MP pension plan was recently reformed to a 50/50 contribution system between MPs and taxpayers.
When one of the three options for MLA living allowances from outside the Capital Regional District doesn’t require receipts for “administrative efficiency” and receipted claims for meals under the per diem policy are not accepted, it’s difficult to have an accurate sense of MLA expenses.
However, figures released by the legislature in October show that from April to September, 63 MLAs billed $366,194 for living allowances and 67 MLAs billed $93,518 in meal per diems while in Victoria. These numbers do not include allowances and per diems paid for by ministries on behalf of their ministers.
At least 43 MLAs billed the $1,000 monthly allowance for six months, even though the legislature only sat for 24 days in April and May. The $1,000 monthly allowance does not require receipts. Eight MLAs billed over $6,000.
Under existing rules, MLAs are entitled to bill “$61 per day for meals when in Victoria,” with the policy stating that: “Partial days or a per-meal rate can not be claimed. No receipted claims are accepted.”
“A per diem is justified when an MLA stays in a hotel,” said Travis. “Otherwise their living arrangements are no different than an MLA with a home in the capital region and a per diem shouldn’t apply.”
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.