Your City

How much does a St. John’s city councillor make? These days it’s around $35,000.

But a recent report is recommending council vote themselves an increase.

Although the full report is not yet public, word is that it was completed by an independent consultant, and I have been told that it recommends a range of possible increases, with 4.5 per cent falling somewhere in the middle. This would bring pay for a councillor to around $38,000 a year. The Deputy-Mayor and Mayor would see their pay increase to about $50,000 and $100,000, respectively.

Sheilagh O’Leary, Councillor-At-Large, wants nothing to do with any such increase. When the issue was brought up in December, she vowed to vote against any proposed increase when it comes back up in March.

“On principle I cannot support an increase [in councillors’ pay] while we are increasing taxes,” she said.

So, let’s say the pay was increased by 4.5 per cent. Would we get 4.5 per cent more work from our councillors? Council positions are generally considered to be part-time, except for the Mayor and Deputy-Mayor, but it’s not laid out clearly.

“There is no direction saying a councillor has to spend this much time on the job,” says O’Leary.

She says each member of council is in a different situation. Some are retired, and others work part-time in addition to their council duties. She says she works more than full-time on council matters, and that the work never stops (she did this interview with me on a Saturday.)

So why not raise our expectations? Why not make all council positions full-time and pay them a wage which they could live on without needing other work? In Halifax, district councillors are full-time positions, and they bring home a tidy $72,000 a year. Wouldn’t it be worth it to have them focusing more of their attention on running the city?

Getting good value for your money is important. Unless something changes, council will have done nothing substantial to justify an increase to their pay except find a report which may have simply taken St. John’s council salaries and compared them to other cities across Canada, like Halifax. Since Halifax district councillors are full-time, this would be like comparing apples to oranges. Each individual city council is different, as is the work they do.

O’Leary says it’s a tough situation, and points out that council members are homeowners too. When taxes go up, it affects them as well. She agrees with me that the positions should be full-time, especially “considering the future prosperity, and where the city is going in the coming years.”

It doesn’t look like there will be any shortage of work out there for council in the foreseeable future, and I hope that council can give the issues they will be facing the time they require and deserve.

5 comments

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28 August 2008

  1. Anonymous · August 28, 2008

    I’m iffy about this idea. My concern would be that making city councilors work full time would drive away skilled, competent people who could be making more money in the private sector. Generally city councilors, at least the ones who aren’t already retired, are at an age where they are at the peaks of their careers and have a lot of financial obligations (on that note, it’s pretty easy to be cynical about Dennis O’Keefe double dipping into the public trough for another 100 grand on top of his teacher’s pension, but that’s a different issue). Expecting them to work full time on council means they would need to walk away from their established careers and businesses for a line of work that offers absolutely no job security. A lot of intelligent people simply wouldn’t go for it, and I’d be afraid that we would end up getting stuck with people on council that we really don’t want (many would argue that this is already the case in St. John’s).

    This is actually a problem at all levels of government. A lot of people would agree that part of the reason we have so many foolish politicians is because competent people are too smart to leave the private sector for a career that is so uncertain. Most people go absolutely rabid when politicians give themselves raises, but I’ve always kept an open mind about it for these very reasons. Occasionally someone like Danny Williams will come along who isn’t concerned about the money, but those are few and far between and St. John’s city council isn’t exactly a glamorous job to begin with.

  2. Jordan · August 28, 2008

    I don’t mind the idea of full time councillors but first we need to get rid of two councillors because the size of council is too big. We also don’t need to be electing a single deputy mayor, either let the mayor appoint a deputy mayor or have a rotating deputy mayor whereby each councillor would serve as deputy mayor for a while.

  3. Andrew Harvey · August 28, 2008

    Both very interesting comments.
    Anonymous, my main concern is that if we have a council who is splitting time between jobs, with one being their main money-making endeavour, do they have enough time to properly devote to both, and if not, which one is suffering? Both probably. I think that council actually benefits from the number of councillors who are retired, as they are probably much freer to devote time to council matters then those who split their time with other work. I agree with your concern that you do not want to be dissuading individuals who would be excellent candidates from even considering running, the question is how do we make sure we are not?
    Jordan, those are both intriguing ideas. Would you simply remove 2 councillors-at-large, or one and the deputy-mayor position? My only concern about making council any smaller would be will there be enough people to do the work we really need to be done? As I said in the article, I think there will be no shortage of work coming up. What do you think?

  4. Jordan · August 28, 2008

    Our council is larger per capita then some others in Canada, of course a council has to be a certain size know matter how small the city is so we get screwed there.

    I also like the idea of having all at-large councillors. I like the fact that we all have a say in who’s on council instead of having ward councillors who are elected by only some residents. We could still have the city divided up into wards after an election and designate each at-large councillor to a ward just so people would know who to contact.

    9 councillors could work though. As well if we have them full time jobs we may see more young people get involved, though that hasn’t really worked with the mayor’s position.