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MLAs given wage freeze

Joel Nickel

WINKLER - 

MLAs in Manitoba will be taking a pay freeze until the end of the next election. That message was reiterated by the Independent Commissioner appointed to decide MLAs salaries, allowances, and retirement benefits, Michael Werier.
Werier decided that MLA pay should remain at $94,513 with a 0 per cent increase for 2018 and 2019. Premier, Ministerial, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition and additional Special Positions will remain the same for 2018 and 2019 as well.
“A number of years ago, MLAs decided that it’s sensitive and probably inappropriate for MLAs to be deciding on their own salaries, which was the past practice. So there was a decision made and it reflected practice in other jurisdictions to appoint a commissioner, an independent officer who would study the issue of salary and benefits, and other issues as well arising, and then to make recommendations that would be put in place so that there would be salaries set by the commissioner and not by MLAs themselves,” Cameron Friesen, MLA for Morden-Winkler, said. “In this case, because we inherited government a year ago, [elected in April of 2016] after assessing the situation in Manitoba ... we said immediate that Manitoba needed to be put on a road to recovery. We have taken steps along that course in order to put Manitoba on a firmer foundation.”
Friesen said that along the way there were difficult decisions to make and as a PC caucus they wanted to lead by example.
“That meant for us that we needed to voluntarily agree that we would not take a wage increase for the rest of this term, not just for this year but until the next Provincial election,” Friesen said.
Mr. Werier’s recommendation echoes what the PC caucus had already agreed to earlier in the spring that there would be no wage increase.
“We are pleased that [Mr. Werier] concurs with us and he has not recommended a salary increase,” Friesen said. “At this point we’ve said it’s all hands on deck. We have fiscal challenges to address, we are addressing those  challenges but it’s very important that we lead by example so we’re not taking a cost of living increase.”
The report also provided increases to MLA allowances. An allowance has been establish for each constituency, to be used for accessibility renovations. This is a one-time allowance available during the term of the Government. Decision were also made on allowances such as the Constituency Allowance, the Constituency Assistants Allowance, and Travel and Living Allowances.
The allowances are reimbursement for expenses incurred in the course of duties as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.
“Things become more expensive over time because of factors including minimum wage increases, changes to assessed property values, interest rates, inflation and so that cost of living allowance is a calculation of that upward cost of things,” Friesen said. “But don’t confuse cost of living increases with things like living allowance which is a category of expenditure of Members of Legislative Assembly. For instance, mileage claims or accommodation, or meal claims, those are done through the living allowance.”
MLA Friesen said this is a positive step.
“Obviously, we’re undertaking some heavy lifting in the Province of Manitoba. We had another downgrade in our credit rating less than two weeks ago. We know that when we get a downgrade we pay more to borrow money to run the Province,” Friesen said. “It means that when we’re in a deficit we pay more to manage that deficit so this is the challenge we all face together but we’ve taken the view as Government that all of us in this Province must be in this together. We’ve asked labour to be in this together, we’ve asked management to be in this together, we’ve asked the crown corporations, health authority, school divisions, to all be in this with us. And that’s why as a Government we need to be demonstrating clearly that we’re on this path together.”
Friesen said that the pay freeze is not the only way Government is leading by example.
“We cut the number of Cabinet Ministers by one third,” Friesen said. “So there are only 12 Ministers now of the Crown. There were 18 under the NDP. Along with that, it’s not only the single individual, but whole departments have been combined. It means that the number of technical officers have been reduced, technical officers refers to all those special assistants and executive assistants, those individuals that resource the minister.”
Friesen added the Government also put controls over travel, grants, hospitality grants, and other incidental expenses.
“All those things we’re making progress on. Now you might say: you’re not going to extricate a $900 million dollar deficit by managing those daily expenditures like hospitality and mileage,” Friesen said. “But I think all of it is important. I think all of it spells out the need for us to do better in terms of managing the finances of Manitoba.”
Friesen said the Government is  committed to being the most improved Province in Canada by 2020.
“There are tough steps that we’re taking in order to do that,” Friesen said. “Clearly, what we’re saying to all Manitobans is that we need to lead by example, and we’re doing that,” Friesen said.