Big pay hikes for B.C.'s top bureaucrats
$105,000 could be added to salary of deputy minister to the premier; government says increases needed to attract and keep quality executives

Lindsay Kines
Victoria Times Colonist

Friday, August 08, 2008

On salary grid, maximum for deputy ministers goes up by nearly 35 per cent.

Premier Gordon Campbell's deputy could get a $105,000 pay hike this year thanks to a new wage scale for top provincial bureaucrats quietly approved by the Liberal government.

Under changes that critics are calling "irresponsible" and "elitist," Jessica McDonald's maximum possible salary jumps 43 per cent to $348,600 from $243,936.

The government also boosted the maximum salary for other deputy ministers by nearly 35 per cent to $299,215. The top pay for assistant deputies climbs 22 per cent to $195,000.

The changes, which will cost B.C. about $4 million a year, took effect Aug. 1, but were kept quiet until today.

Labour Market Development Minister Murray Coell told reporters that not every senior bureaucrat will receive the maximum salary.

McDonald will review the salaries of all deputies in the coming months and decide how much each should get. Campbell will review McDonald's salary.

Coell said the salary increases are necessary to bring B.C. more in line with other provinces and help government recruit top quality executives.

A recent review of public sector salaries across the country ranked B.C.'s pay scale for deputies and assistant deputies at sixth and 10th respectively among the provinces, he said.

The changes, which follow double-digit increases two years ago, will move the province into third place behind Alberta and Ontario.

Coell said the province expects to lose more than half of its top 150 bureaucrats to retirement over the next 10 years.

"They're our top decision-makers and they handle a $30 billion-plus budget," he said. "So we want to make sure we can attract the best and brightest from across the country, and also to retain the ones that are here so they don't leave for better-paying jobs in other provinces.

"We just can't be 10th in the provinces for salaries and expect that we will get the best people."

But NDP critic Mike Farnworth called the pay hikes "unbelievable" and slammed the Liberal government for announcing them in the middle of August on the opening day of the Olympics.

"That's a gold medal in arrogance if there ever was one," he said.

Farnworth said McDonald's potential pay hike, in particular, is "completely out of line."

"I don't know what planet the premier's living on, but it's not the one that the rest of us are," he said. "At a time when we're being hit by carbon gas tax increases, high ferry cost increases, higher fuel increases, tolls on bridges, increased housing costs - the premier's deputy gets a $105,000 increase? I'm supremely ticked off."

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said the pay hikes reveal a government that has lost touch with its citizens.

"They gave themselves a huge wage increase," he said. "Now they're giving the highest paid people massive wage increases and they're saying to everyone else who is suffering, 'Forget it.'

"We have the lowest minimum wage in the country. Lowest. It's been frozen for seven years and they refuse, time after time, to raise the minimum wage. . . . So now we're trailing the whole country on minimum wage at the bottom end, and at the top they're in the trough."

Maureen Bader of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation called the new salary framework "excessive" and "irresponsible."

"It's just going up and up and up," she said. "And these governments seem to be more and more out of touch with families' ability to continue to make these kinds of payments to government and bureaucrats."