Community

BC VIEWS: Big Brother’s coming to city hall

Premier Christy Clark and minister Peter Fassbender turn their attention to CUPE contracts, police wages and city hall executive pay

Remember two years ago when B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Peter Fassbender took on the B.C. Teachers’ Federation?

The province weathered its longest-ever public school strike, five weeks of full-scale shutdown from disrupted graduation to cancelled fall classes, with the B.C. government dividing up the salary savings and sending cheques to thousands of parents.

The province’s most militant union was wrestled to the ground, its strike fund exhausted, and the BCTF signed a five-year agreement with economic growth sharing similar to all the other provincial government unions. Then Premier Christy Clark assigned Fassbender a new job: do the same thing with municipalities.

It started last year, when a provincially commissioned study on municipal wages was leaked just as mayors and councillors from around the province gathered in Whistler for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

The study showed that municipal staff wage increases had been running at about twice the rate of provincial wage settlements, as the province came out of a recession-driven wage freeze and into a period of slow economic growth.

NDP leader John Horgan and the Canadian Union of Public Employees dismissed the study as full of holes, partly because left-leaning cities refused to supply the data. It seems some municipalities, particularly in Metro Vancouver, are not keen to have Big Brother get involved in their contract negotiations.

At this year’s UBCM convention in Victoria, Fassbender let it be known in his closing speech that a review of municipal compensation is underway. That means not only CUPE agreements, but executive pay and even the rich arbitrated settlements handed out to municipal police and firefighters.

I asked Fassbender about the plan after his speech Friday, and he was the smooth salesman. He emphasized, as Finance Minister Mike de Jong did last year, that there is no legislative hammer hidden behind his back. At least not at the moment.

“I’ve had a number of good discussions with mayors as I’ve traveled around the province who clearly recognized one of their biggest cost drivers is compensation, and they are more than willing to talk about it,” Fassbender said. “It takes their provincial organization, I think ideally you have UBCM and all of its members, and I emphasize all of its members, willing to sit down and start that conversation.”

The likelihood of that appears to be somewhere between slim and none.

Just before Fassbender’s speech, local government leaders debated a resolution dealing with the province’s last effort to help them run their affairs, the Auditor General for Local Government.

The upshot of that was similar to last year: Dear Minister Fassbender, put this thing where the sun don’t shine. Several mayors and councillors suggested the UBCM should lift its ban on cooperating with the auditor, but in the end the majority sided with Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft, who pointed out the province’s new municipal auditor spends $5 million a year to find ways for communities to cut costs. The only way to get rid of it is to change the provincial government next year, Taft said.

So this will be one of the showdown issues in the next provincial election: strong fiscal discipline vs. meddling in the affairs of local governments. It will inspire CUPE and other unions as they ramp up their third-party advertising campaigns next spring.

It’s been 15 years since Christy Clark as education minister, and Gordon Campbell as premier, tore up sweetheart contracts the NDP had negotiated with teachers and hospital workers, setting off an epic court fight that continues today.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police recover body of Tofino man near Hot Springs Cove

An RCMP dive team has recovered the body of a Tofino man in his 50s.

Winter hits Tofino and Ucluelet with snow and power outages

Ucluelet’s new public works foreman tackles town’s first snowfall first day on the job.

Dylan Green set to launch B.C.’s first ride-hailing app in Tofino

The Whistle! app will be available in Tofino on Feb.1 and in Whistler Feb. 6.

UPDATED: Itska back in owner’s arms after Oak Bay man returns dog taken from Tofino

Shannon Boothman expects to be reunited with Itska on Sunday

VIDEO: Trudeau insists Iran respect families’ wishes when it comes to burials

All 176 people on board the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 were killed

Advocates call hospital parking fees a ‘shakedown’ after learning most Island tickets are waived

Victoria General and Royal Jubilee hospitals among the most ticketed on the Island

Dog reunited with Tofino owner, months after being taken from beach

Shannon Boothman ‘ecstatic’ at pet’s return after a tip leads to social media search

Councillor resigns in Revelstoke after colleagues approved 67% raise

Council approved a 134 per cent raise for the mayor of Revelstoke

Rolled-over dairy truck in Abbotsford lost 40,000 litres of milk

Truck removed Sunday, Jan. 19, with specialized equipment to upright vehicle

Boy, 13, arrested after alleged assault involving girl at B.C. middle school

Boy alleged to have used ‘inappropriate levels of force’ to injure the girl

B.C. premier talks forestry, service needs with handful of northern mayors in Prince George

Prince George meeting completes premier’s tour of Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. James and Quesnel

B.C. asks health-care staff to be ‘vigilant’ when screening for coronavirus

This comes after U.S. health officials confirmed a case of the virus in Washington State

B.C. player becomes only second Canadian to enter Hall of Fame of Baseball

Walker received 76.6 percent of the Baseball Writers of America Association vote

Most Read