Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rathgeber leaves Cons -- others should follow

Brent Rathgeber resigned from the Conservative caucus last night, after his proposed private member's bill was basically emaciated by his fellow backbenchers.   His proposed bill, C-461, has one very simple purpose -- requiring that all public servants as well as CBC employees who earn more than $188,000 must have their salaries, taxable benefits and expense accounts published on a "sunshine list."    This number, which happens to be the same as that of a Deputy Minister -- that is, the top public servant in each department -- may be arbitrary, but if an ordinary MP's salary is $160,200 and he or she gets a housing allowance of $28,000 on top of that (if they are from outside Ottawa-Gatineau), it seems a reasonable enough threshold.

Rathgeber's cohorts voted to increase that way up to over $444,000 without any justification as to why it should be that amount.  Meaning that even the Chief Justice's pay packet wouldn't be on the list (not that her salary is a state secret anyway -- this year it's $379,900, even more than the PM who earns $320,400).

Couple of points.   First, having a fixed amount instead of allowing the threshold to rise with inflation would cause the list to eventually become so long that it becomes unwieldy as it has here in Ontario.   And it still leaves room for loopholes.   For instance, with Ontario's list, the floor is still at $100,000 (and has been since 1995!) but it does not include physicians whose billings are not disclosed but any professorships they may have are.   I am aware for instance of a child psychiatrist who a few years back was earning a huge amount of money for teaching at a medical school ($300,000 plus) on top of his remittances to public insurance (making that amount double, perhaps?).   This bill would allow for that kind of floating floor which is a good thing.

But second -- and this is what I think is important -- if this current Con government is all about "accountability", then why in heaven's name would one want to emaciate such an important bill?     We're not talking about what goes on at nuclear power plants or on board our state vessels at sea.    We as taxpayers have every right to demand value for money.   And that includes our public servants.    The vast majority of them do an outstanding job as the current régime continues to encroach on their independence.    Putting out those pay packets might even encourage people to apply to join Team Fed when they see how lucrative it can be if one applies himself or herself to it.

It takes a lot to get backbone in the current headwinds, and Rathgeber gets a huge thumbs up from me today.    If only others would follow.

There's a better chance a hair will grow in the palm of my hand.

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