Byelection vibe forces Clark to rescind pay hikes

Michael Smyth, The Province

Published: Thursday, June 20, 2013

Christy Clark got one week into a byelection campaign when she realized she had a problem - the monstrous pay hikes she earlier approved for political staffers in Victoria.

Clark suddenly backed down Wednesday on the raises - which saw maximum salaries for some staff positions jump by as much as 60 per cent - as a byelection backlash grew in her new political stomping grounds of Kelowna.

"I'm the premier and I'm fixing it," Clark said, announcing most of the raises would be rescinded.

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A June 3 cabinet order boosted the maximum salary of Clark's chief of staff by 18 per cent to $230,000 a year and raised the pay of some ministerial assistants from $94,000 to $105,000.

"I think giving people raises didn't sit well with citizens," Clark said.

No kidding. But Clark took her sweet time figuring that out, because that's not what she was saying just a few days ago.

Clark spent last Thursday and Friday campaigning in Westside-Kelowna, where re-elected Liberal Ben Stewart stepped aside after the premier lost her own Vancouver seat in last month's election.

Asked about the pay hikes, Clark said her chief of staff told her the old pay scale for senior staff "isn't fair" and "doesn't make sense."

She also said the overall budget for political staff had actually gone down slightly.

"We ran on smaller government and it's the example I want to set for the whole civil service," she told the Westside Weekly newspaper.

That was then. Now she's singing a different tune.

"I said during the election we're going to control spending, we're going to make government smaller if we can and that's going to mean tightening our belts," Clark said Wednesday.

Clark rescinded all the raises, except for deputy chief of staff Michele Cadario, who'll get 21-per-cent more than her predecessor because she has taken on additional duties. Cadario was the Liberal Party's deputy campaign manager in the election.

What changed in just a few days? The backlash from byelection voters in Kelowna, where NDP candidate Carole Gordon was attacking the pay raises and scoring points.

"The timing could not be worse," an editorial in the Kelowna Courier newspaper said about the raises. "Voters will go to the polls July 10, and Clark will have to put this behind her before proving to local voters that she is more than just a parachute candidate."

By cancelling the booty haul, Clark is clearly trying to do just that. I suspect the Liberals have some local polling data that rang alarm bells.

"The decision as their first item, to jack up the salaries of political staff, just shows them to be out of touch," said NDP leader Adrian Dix.

You have to wonder if the Liberals secretly wish that Clark had simply waited for the byelection to be over before they stuck their hands in the cookie jar.


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