City employees should feel the pinch, too
Across Calgary, people are losing their jobs and receiving pay cuts. Well, except those who work in government.
No, for some reason, our elected officials have surrendered when it comes to asking government employees to feel the pinch a bit, too. A great example of this can be seen at the City of Calgary.
In a recent Sun article, Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland bemoaned the fact some union contracts were signed during the good times; when the economy was doing well. According to Sutherland, now that the economy has gone sour, there’s nothing that can be done. He suggested renegotiating union contracts is “not even a possibility.”
With lacklustre effort like that, who needs a council to represent taxpayers? Why not just fold up council and let the administration do whatever it wants?
Of course we have elected officials to look out for the public. Their job is to hold the administration in check, provide direction and make tough decisions. To be fair to Sutherland, he wasn’t the only one to drop the ball.
What council should have said to government employee union bosses is:
“The people that pay your salaries — people in the private sector — many are receiving pay cuts and layoffs right now. It’s only fair that you feel the pinch a bit too.” Without a doubt, the city’s union bosses would refuse to reopen existing contracts — government unions almost always do. They’ll provide all kinds of excuses as to why they’re special and their contracts shouldn’t be touched. Council of course could then respond with the alternative: layoffs.
Ralph Klein used this technique effectively during the 1990s. Ultimately, when given the choice, government employee unions chose to take an across the board 5% pay cut as it meant that no job losses would occur.
Klein isn’t the only politician to utilize this technique. Former Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Gary Filmon and former Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae utilized similar techniques.
So why can’t Calgary’s council use the same approach? They should. And if you look at the city’s financials, the savings could be immense.
According to Sutherland, the city is looking to fill a $60- million shortfall. It sounds like a lot of money — and it is — but it’s not that much in the grand scheme of city hall’s budget.
Note that in 2013, council spent $1.693 billion on salaries and benefits alone. In 2014, that figure was up $54 million to $1.747 billion. In other words, a one-year freeze in salary and benefit costs would likely be enough to freeze taxes for Calgary taxpayers. A slight pay reduction could even allow council to reduce taxes and help all Calgary families get through this tough time.
Given the Klein example is so well known, and given the magnitude of the savings from merely asking government employees to take a pay freeze for a year, why isn’t council doing anything? The answer lies with you, your friends, colleagues, and neighbours.
Plain and simple, unless the public pushes their councillors to take action, they’ll always take the easy way out and raise taxes … like they just did.
Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre and is the author of The Government Wears Prada.
This column appeared in the September 30 edition of the Calgary Sun