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

PHOTOS: Cloverdale’s Coldest Night of the Year charity walk raises $125K

Annual event sees more than 500 walkers take part

Man pleads guilty to stabbing woman, off-duty cop outside North Delta elementary school

The suspect, whose name is under a publication ban, faced 10 charges in relation to this incident

All-Surrey battle for South Fraser boys basketball title

At Tamanawis, the top four teams will go to provincials

Surrey RCMP boss Brian Edwards on moving forward, and what keeps him awake at night

Edwards spoke with Now-Leader reporter Tom Zytaruk about what he’s learning and hopes to accomplish as Surrey’s top cop

Hopes are for ‘focus on Surrey investments’ when Horgan speaks in March

Luncheon at golf course planned by Surrey Board of Trade

VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

UPDATE: Protesters dismantle blockade on Maple Ridge tracks

West Coast Express train service is expected to run again Tuesday morning

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

Motorists were ‘driving like their own Indy 500’ before fatal Abbotsford crash, court hears

Family member declares defence request for 90-day jail sentence a ‘joke’

B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Summerland facility latest to have administrator appointed

RCMP pull office from Wet’suwet’en territory, but hereditary chiefs still want patrols to end

Chief says temporary closure of field office not enough as Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute drags on

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Most Read