Central Saanich residents won’t get a chance to cast ballots about the remuneration rates of councillors.
Mayor Ryan Windsor joined Couns. Chris Graham, Carl Jensen, Gord Newton, Niall Paltiel, and Bob Thompson in opposing a motion by Coun. Zeb King for a referendum that would have asked the public to select from a series of options about council remuneration with staff and council working out details closer to the 2022 municipal election.
Paltiel said this is not the time to discuss an issue with limited financial implications against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we have more serious items to talk about,” he said, noting council remuneration, or pay, accounts for less than one per cent of the municipality’s overall budget. That echoed an earlier point from Graham, who also said referenda should be reserved for serious issues such as amalgamation. Jensen also highlighted the larger context, saying he was surprised the issue was back on the table. The municipality still finds itself “knee-deep” in dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with considerable uncertainty ahead. “We don’t know what a second wave looks like,” he said.
Not all criticisms of King’s idea were as harsh, with Thompson suggesting the municipality could take the opportunity to review the issue against the remuneration guidelines from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM). Newton said he liked the idea in theory, but expressed reservations about what the motion’s ambiguity.
King for his part said in a follow up interview that the outcome did not surprise him, but also used the occasion to reiterate the appropriateness of holding a referendum on the subject. “There is no reason why such motions to consult the public should not be made,” he said.
He also questioned the argument that the municipality cannot deal with this issue. “The argument that some motions should not be made during COVID is wrong and simply a misunderstanding of the responsibilities of elected [representatives],” he said. “Disagreeing is totally acceptable. Voting opposed is fine, but suggesting motions should not be made is simply anti democratic.”
Earlier this year, before the height of the pandemic, Windsor tabled, then withdraw a motion that called on the municipality to set the remuneration for the mayor and council at the same level as Esquimalt, with councillor remuneration at 40 per cent of the mayors’ salary with all receiving annual cost of living adjustments.
The motion dating back to March never came up for a vote as councillors postponed it pending receipt of a report reviewing remuneration and benefits because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Windsor’s decision to withdraw his motion subsequently prompted King to withdraw a notice of motion calling on the current council not to consider the issue and that the pending report investigating the issue “shall be presented for information to candidates and voters just prior to the 2022 municipal election.”
He then filed the notice of motion defeated Monday. If the previously proposed increases had gone ahead, Windsor’s remuneration would have gone up by 65 per cent, while the remuneration of councillors would go up by about 50 per cent. This said, the actual net increase would have been significantly less — about half — because of recent tax changes by the federal government.
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