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B.C. cities call municipal pay review flawed, biased

Province's report claiming out-of-control civic wages rankles UBCM, Metro Vancouver leaders

B.C. cities are firing back at the province for commissioning what they call a flawed and biased review of rising municipal compensation levels.

The Ernst and Young report criticized cities for allowing staff pay levels to climb by 38 per cent – twice the rate of the provincial public service – from 2001-12.

It also suggested municipal managers are paid too much and recommended the province take strong action to curb the trend, potentially by threatening to reduce municipal grants.

The report hasn’t been released by the province but was leaked last week via the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and has cast a chill on municipal-provincial relations as politicians meet in Whistler for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

UBCM president Rhona Martin said the authors didn’t consult cities or unions, showed a “lack of objectivity” and relied heavily on provincial data and anti-tax lobby groups like the CTF.

They admitted the data was limited but drew strongly worded conclusions anyway, she added.

Martin said the report’s suggestion of placing municipal compensation under provincial control – potentially with centralized collective bargaining – would have “profound consequences.”

The review was part of the province’s core review with a goal of ensuring public sector pay levels are appropriate.

The province has had increasing trouble filling non-union ministerial positions as the pay premium diminishes compared to both government union jobs and municipal government positions, the review indicated.

Community Minister Coralee Oakes urged Martin on Sept. 9 to formally commit to jointly explore both the province’s aim of payroll cost control as well as UBCM’s ideas to strengthen the finances of its member cities.

Oakes had proposed a signing ceremony at UBCM when the government-sponsored review would be unveiled.

But Martin noted the province rebuffed UBCM proposals tabled a year ago for municipal finance reforms, including a suggestion that provincial government revenues be shared with cities during economic boom times.

Instead of exploring those ideas, Martin said in a message to UBCM members, the province countered with its own report that was “narrowly focused on compensation comparisons based on an incomplete data set.”

In a Sept. 12 reply letter, Martin told Oakes the report’s limitations and lack of consultation make a formal commitment “inappropriate” and said the suggestion of centralized collective bargaining is “problematic” in the current labour relations environment.

The review was leaked to the CTF over the Sept. 13-14 weekend.

Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore called the report “extremely disappointing” and “profoundly disrespectful” to cities.

“Municipal councils are not agents of the province,” Moore said, adding they are democratically accountable to local voters and any move to impose a provincial compensation philosophy on cities would pose a direct challenge to their autonomy.

The Metro board decided at an in-camera meeting Friday to hire its own expert to analyze the province’s compensation review.