Editorial – An admission of incompetence?

Jeff Burgar

People used to actually volunteer to be at the top of local governments. Heck, they basically even “volunteered” to run for office to be a Member of the Legislature. Payment for going to meetings and looking after things was minimal.

Today’s paycheque totals, in the $25,000 range or more per year, with bumps of $10,000 or $20,000 or more for travel, special meetings and committee meetings, just for a councillor, never crossed their minds. Never. OK. Hardly ever.

Usually, a candidate would say, “Aww shucks,” looking at his shoes and shuffling his feet. “You know, this community has given me so much, I just want to give something back. That’s why I am running for office.”

As they say, the crowd usually went wild.

These days? Yeah, right! Show me the money! And even pensions!

A brave new world. Garbage in the streets and parking lots. Homeless tent cities. Beggars on city corners. And politicians not only with their hands out, but arguing for even more. As in, “If you want good politicians, you have to pay for them.”

This hilarity appeared at one of our local government council meetings. Some High Prairie councillors are angling for a pay increase. This was before COVID-19 brought the world to its knees. But still, it was right in the middle of one of the worst oil crises in modern times. The idea was shot down.

Some councillors are determined to carry on.

One opined at a recent budget meeting, “more pay would attract better councillors.” This poor choice of words was not unchallenged. So, at a later council meeting, a different councillor demanded an apology. Councillor Brian Gilroy said this statement is an insult to him. He added he is trying his best to serve the community.

Well, indeed, it is an insult. The person making the insult wouldn’t back down. In fact, the councillor, Michael Long, repeated the insult. He said many people have taken the same stand regarding pay. That statement is not [just] me,” he said, meaning many people say the same thing about better pay attracting better people.

Long later apologized if he offended anyone.

Actually, the whole idea more pay attracts better people insults all those elected to office. In fact, maybe that is the whole intent of the “many people” saying the same thing. Where do you stop? If we toss the whole idea of community and public service under the bus, is there a magic dollar number for “best” councillors? An election issue with little money boxes voters can check off?

Or just take a page from many First Nation songbooks. Many pay their councillors outstandingly high amounts. It is now routine across Canada First Nation elections draw 40-60 candidates.

With towns, municipal districts and counties often struggling to get candidates, there is a case for good money.

And if we follow this “better pay attracts better candidates” argument, it assumes there must be hundreds, if not thousands of better people sitting back. Maybe watching what to them are gong shows in our local governments at present.

Now that friends, is a scary thought.

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