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Independent committee recommends pay bump for Canmore council after next election

“If this can attract more people to apply that maybe otherwise couldn’t beforehand, then that’s a step forward in the right direction. Whoever gets elected in the following election will benefit.”
20211022 Canmorecouncil 1
The newly elected Canmore council was sworn in at town hall on Friday Oct. 22. From left: Joanna McCallum, Tanya Foubert, Wade Graham, Sean Krausert, Jeff Hilstad, Jeff Mah and Karen Marra GREG COLGAN RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – The next seven people elected to Canmore council in 2025 will likely be getting a pay bump.

Council accepted the recommendations from the independent council remuneration review committee and directed Town staff to create an updated council pay policy. A new medical leave policy and maternity/parental leave bylaw will also be established for elected officials.

If the pay policy is formally approved by council in the fall, it won’t come into effect until after the 2025 municipal election.

The biggest shift will have councillor base pay go from $33,800 to $53,000, while the mayor’s base pay will increase from $119,000 to $130,000.

“It is very important moving forward our community has people that run whose heart is in the right place and the only way we can do that is if we provide them with decent income. This is hard work and a 24/7 job,” said Coun. Joanna McCallum, who added when she was elected in 2010 the base pay was $26,000.

“We are stopped everywhere. … Moving forward, this will allow members of our community in this role that weren’t able to see themselves in this role because of the financial aspect.”

When the remuneration committee was created by council in 2023, a key aspect was exploring ways to increase diversity of candidates running to be an elected official.

Mayor Sean Krausert said his hope is the increase in pay, particularly in a community with a high cost of living like Canmore, will open the door for new people to run for public office.

“If this can attract more people to apply that maybe otherwise couldn’t beforehand, then that’s a step forward in the right direction. Whoever gets elected in the following election will benefit,” he said.

Coun. Tanya Foubert noted in addition to her council role, she continues to work three other jobs to remain in the community.

“What the recommendations and considerations brought forward for us are excellent,” she said. “It’s not just that, it’s a first step of us having a process with our community at how we compensate our leaders who step forward to do this work.”

Coun. Jeff Mah, a first-term elected official, said it’s been an “eye-opening experience”.

“Before you’re a councillor, you’re one sort of person. After you’re elected, your life is different. It’s very different,” he said.

The estimated time commitment for councillors is between 25-30 hours a week, according to a staff report. The mayor’s position is projected at more than 40 hours a week, said remuneration committee chair Craig Saloff.

A key shift will see the removal of councillor per diems for required meetings to be part of the base pay. A cost of living adjustment will be made annually. However, per diems will still be paid for non-mandatory meetings such as events. The change would see a councillor’s estimated salary with per diems and retirement savings plan move to $64,000.

In 2023, Canmore council yearend salaries including per diems, benefits and allowances ranged from $48,000 to $56,500. In 2022, it was between $48,500 and $52,500.

A per diem rate for working fewer than four hours is $125, while between four and eight hours is $225. More than eight hours is $350. Unlike councillors, a mayor doesn’t receive per diems.

The remuneration committee’s report to council stated the provincial dashboard had an annual median family income in Canmore of $125,000 or $72,000 for a single parent.

A medical leave is proposed for up to 16 weeks to align with provincial employment standards. Parental leave of up to eight weeks for medical leave and up to an extra four months of full pay will also be allowed for maternity leave. However, the council member can still take part in council meetings during the maternity leave.

McCallum noted the council job can be “quite lonesome” and also “self-dependent, self-reliant” when speaking on the stress of the role and the need for medical leave.

Coun. Wade Graham echoed McCallum's comments, highlighting several discussions on mental health-related topics he had at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Calgary earlier in June.

“The current political climate we exist in, and the abuse many of us take on a regular basis, is unacceptable. Having this ability for politicians to take care of their mental health is incredibly important.”

According to a staff report, the changes will cost an extra $161,226 per year or about $10 each year to the median Canmore home.

Council approved the remuneration review committee in 2023 to research and review council pay and return with recommendations. The five-person committee met several times in 2024, reviewing the demographics of the 2021 municipal election candidates and council members past and present were surveyed.

Among the information reviewed was a consultant report on Canmore council remuneration, the province’s regional dashboard, the Alberta Living Wage Report and the 2023 Alberta Municipal Services Corporation wage and compensation survey for large towns.

The staff report stated the committee found Canmore council “is more complex than that of municipalities of similar size,” due to a unique context that leads to a larger workload.

“The recommendations may also diminish barriers so a more diverse and representative pool of candidates can run for council, and the committee believes the recommended remuneration changes better recognize the complexity, responsibilities, and time commitments associated with the role of an elected official in Canmore,” stated the committee’s report to council.

The committee will be established two years before the 2029 municipal election to see how inflation may impact new councils as well as reviewing per diems and other possible necessary changes.

Remuneration review committees for council pay are becoming more common, with municipality’s such as Banff, Calgary, St. Albert and Grande Prairie all having established one. The MD of Bighorn is also doing a salary review for its council.

Graham, who called for a review of council pay on his election campaign platform, said he’s in a position to be an elected official and maintain his business. However, he noted many people aren’t in the same position and are stopped from running.

“I recognize fully the privilege I have to be able to do this job and not everyone has that privilege,” he said. “I want to see those folks that don’t necessarily have the privilege some of us have to be able to run and this town needs diverse opinions and perspectives and understandings and life experiences at this table to make the decisions that are important and affect all of us.”

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