The salary freeze is nothing more than a symbolic “I feel your pain” gesture
Governments’ use of symbolism
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In Wednesday’s speech from the throne, the government announced plans for austerity in order to attempt to reduce the huge deficit. The announcement included plans to freeze the salaries of MPs, cabinet ministers, senators and office budgets.
As Sun Media columnist Greg Weston pointed out, the effect on the freeze of these salaries on the country’s spending will be negligible. They are entitled to yearly cost of living increases and with low inflation they are giving up very little.
Contrary to the belief of many, MPs work hard although there is no doubt that we would all be better off if they didn’t. And they are well paid for what they do. Gone are the days of Paul Martin Sr. who, when the Liberals got booted out of office and he lost his cabinet position, had to travel back and forth to Windsor to practice law so that little Paul could continue to eat, grow up and become one of the country’s worst prime ministers. The salary freeze is nothing more than a symbolic “I feel your pain” gesture. But is it necessary?
Politicians’ salaries are always a sore spot with their constituents. Under a parliamentary system, bringing a bill into law is a cumbersome procedure; three readings of the bills, sending it off to committees. Of course if the entire House agrees, a bill can become law in a matter of minutes as has happened on the occasional Friday afternoon when MPs decided to give themselves a raise. Even if they were entitled to a raise, the optics of MPs deciding upon their own salaries is bad.
Some people will be cynical about the move to freeze their pay; that it’s all for show and they will be right. And there is a downside to freezing the salaries. It leaves open the possibility of going across the country bragging about how they are suffering with the masses while increasing spending in other areas at the same time. But there are downsides to everything.
While the use of symbolism might not be a big deal in the minds of many, the reverse is not true. Nothing makes the taxpayers angrier than the “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy that many governing politicians employ. Barack Obama is a prime example. When the United States was in the midst of “the worst economic times since the Great Depression”, thanks of course to George W. Bush, Barry and Michelle were jetting off to New York for dinner. At the same time Obama was chastising business executives for flying their planes (their planes, not the taxpayers) to Las Vegas. The hypocrisy was breathtaking.
And then there’s Toronto City Council who no matter how bad their books are, steadfastly refuse to freeze their own salaries or, perish the thought, reduce their salaries during times of economic downturns. The left wing politicians that dominate the council are perfect examples of the “them against us” mentality. They have no compunction about increasing taxes and imposing new and higher user fees while refusing to give up a nickel of their own salaries. They are a bunch of spoiled brats, who, like infants, are only concerned with themselves and couldn’t care less about the problems of everyday people, unless of course those people happen to be members of one of their pet special interest groups. Had city council taken the step to freeze or nominally reduce their own salaries they would have gained a lot of respect. But then again, it’s not about respect; it’s about power.
Sometimes the kind of symbolism that the federal government has just engaged in is necessary.