It took a week on the by-election campaign trail in B.C.'s Interior to convince Premier Christy Clark to reverse her decision to boost the pay scale for top political appointees back in Victoria.
Ms. Clark said the public backlash has convinced her the raises were out of step with the election mandate that her B.C. Liberal Party won on May 14. "People told me, 'Christy, you said you were going to control spending, this doesn't seem to reflect that.' And I think they are right. So I'm going to fix it."
The pay hikes were never announced, but were quietly approved just two weeks after the general election on the advice of her chief of staff. That meant the salary changes were one of the first acts of the Clark government after the ballots were counted – in fact, before her new cabinet was sworn in.
The optics were proving to be a problem as the Premier seeks to win the Westside-Kelowna by-election after losing her riding in Vancouver-Point Grey on election night. Ben Stewart, who took the riding for the B.C. Liberals by a wide margin, resigned last week to provide a safe seat for Ms. Clark.
But the NDP opposition set out to make the new pay scale a by-election issue, contrasting the decision to hand out grander job titles and higher pay grades for hand-picked political appointees with new fee hikes for seniors in publicly funded care homes.
Ms. Clark ducked questions last week on the subject and left Finance Minister Mike de Jong to defend the new pay regime.
The overall salary envelope for political staff didn't increase, he said, so it did not contradict the government's efforts to freeze compensation for the rest of the public sector.
Now, Ms. Clark said she believes the changes are indefensible. "I'm not satisfied that any of those raises were necessary for staff," she told reporters. "It was the wrong decision. … It just sends the wrong message about what we are trying to do."
However, she has made one exception for her new deputy chief of staff. Michele Cadario will earn $30,000 more than her predecessor. The Premier said that is because she is taking on more duties, but at $175,000 a year, she'll be paid $20,000 less than she was promised on June 3.
During the general election campaign, Ms. Clark promised to rein in government spending and reduce the debt. "British Columbians gave me a mandate to get government spending under control … and making government smaller whenever we can," the Premier said. Giving pay raises to political staff "was very much at odds with what we talked about during the campaign," Ms. Clark told reporters on Wednesday, after a cabinet meeting in Vancouver where the old pay scale was officially reinstated.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who was campaigning in Kelowna on Wednesday, welcomed the decision to backtrack but said the Clark government has still exposed an unseemly set of priorities.
"What was their message two weeks ago? What they decided to do was reward their friends at the expense of others. Here in Kelowna … people were outraged – it showed a government completely out of touch."
Ms. Clark said in future, any adjustments to the pay scale for political appointees will be based upon a comparison with other jurisdictions, and the public will be told about proposed changes in advance.