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EDITORIAL: Elected officials should receive living wage

EDITORIAL: The majority of municipal elected officials should be paid more than they likely already are.
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/

The majority of municipal elected officials should be paid more than they likely already are.

Anytime politicians and their salaries are discussed, it becomes a polarizing and controversial issue.

One has to look no further than the City of Calgary in January and members of parliament in April to see what many people thought about those elected officials getting a pay bump – albeit, well below the increase in cost of living.

But like any other job, when a salary doesn't keep up to the cost of living, the person is effectively taking a pay cut.

The optics of politicians receiving a pay increase are often far different than when a plumber, construction worker or retail employee gets one. Other employment sectors will state to get the best candidates, you have to offer a consummate salary to get and keep employees.

As Canmore, Banff and Bighorn councils go through or completed independent processes of council remuneration, time will tell if changes in salary lead to more diverse councils and if a higher wage opens a different demographic to run for public office.

Of the 19 elected officials in Banff and Canmore, one is under 30 and three are younger than 40. All but two are Caucasian, missing the potential for larger representation from different ethnic backgrounds in a valley that prides itself on diversity.

Elected officials should come from all walks of life, whether it’s lower-, middle- or upper-class and a multitude of different upbringings and life experiences, to be able best represent the community in making decisions that impact the long-term success of a community.

The issues faced by municipalities in the Bow Valley are far different and often more complex than their municipal counterparts of the same size. Few population centres the size of Banff, Canmore and the MD of Bighorn deal with the amount of tourism, interest in development, focus on human-wildlife protection and the absolutely staggering height of cost of living and affordability.

But with the extra pay that’s more consummate for the position, it’s beholden to them to continue to invest in the positions they hold.

It should be mandatory for elected officials to not only receive governance training, but to continue it throughout each term.

The provincial government’s new Bill 20 to amend municipal-related legislation crosses the line in many ways, but its requirement for mandatory orientation training hits the mark.

That training should have an independent aspect, but elected officials should take courses through universities or Alberta Municipalities, from which there is an abundance to choose from.

If there’s going to be a commitment to extra pay, elected officials should be obliged to continue to grow themselves in the role and better understand basic governance.

The extra pay should also ensure more elected officials find time to attend community meetings, conferences and events where they can both learn more about their role and hear from residents.

Larger areas such as Edmonton or Calgary have made their elected positions full-time, meaning a livable income is part of the job with the mayors of the two cities making more than Alberta’s premier.

However, for the more than 300 other municipalities in Alberta and thousands of smaller ones across Canada, there’s often little financial incentive to do the job.

In 2019, elected officials lost the one-third tax exemption on their salaries, effectively meaning they took a hefty pay cut.

Any business that pays less than a living wage, whether it’s a restaurant, a construction company or the owners of the Outlook, you’re going to struggle to keep and get staff.

The same is true for elected officials.

If a council member is working three jobs to stay in the Bow Valley, the reality is they’re going to have less time to hear from constituents, not enough time to read agendas and prepare for meetings and even fewer opportunities to educate and enhance their own governance abilities.

A resident and taxpayer should want their politicians to entirely focus on their role in a governing body.

Though extra pay for politicians will always be polarizing, residents and taxpayers should push for living wages no matter the position.

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