Robert Barron column: Cutting tax break for local politicians not a good idea

These are not salaries to plan a retirement on the French Riviera.

With municipal elections around the corner, and with many important issues facing local governments in the Cowichan Valley, one would think we’d do our best to ensure the best candidates toss their hats into the ring.

Valley residents are facing an upcoming vote on amalgamation between the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan.

We are also dealing with a growing and deadly opioid crisis, a housing crisis that has seen the numbers of homeless people in the Valley skyrocket and climate change that is forcing us to take a serious look at our water resources, to name just a few of the issues facing local governments at this time.

Yet senior levels of government make it harder and harder for quality municipal candidates to want to get involved and take on the many responsibilities that are required of local municipal councillors and directors.

There seems to be a belief out there that council members and regional directors in the Cowichan Valley are making enough to live the rest of their lives in luxury on the taxpayers’ dime, but the facts don’t bear that out.

Financial records from 2016 show that councillors in North Cowichan made $21,865 in base salary and benefits, while the mayor made $59,869.

In the City of Duncan, councillors made $13,385 in salaries and benefits in 2016 while the mayor made $23,891, and in the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the base pay and benefits for directors that represent electoral areas totalled $30,984.

These are not salaries to plan a retirement on the French Riviera.

Now the federal government is looking to peel back a decades-old tax break for local elected officials.

As part of the federal government’s budget in 2017, elected members in Canada’s municipalities will soon be required to pay taxes for the first time on the approximately 30 per cent of their salaries that had been tax exempt.

The tax break was meant to cover the many expenses related to a municipal councillor’s work, including travel costs to attend meetings, office supplies and cell phones, by making a segment of their pay non-taxable.

This will end at the beginning of 2019.

Council members and regional directors generally spend much more than 40 hours a week doing their jobs and representing their constituents as best they can.

They are regularly given hundreds of pages of staff reports and recommendations on any number of municipal projects and priorities and are required to digest all this information as quickly as possible so they can give their thoughts and opinions on them.

They attend countless municipal meetings, as well as meetings in the community, in their ongoing efforts to keep in touch with the public and ensure them their elected officials are listening and prepared to act on their behalf.

If you do the math, many of our elected representatives at the local level make about minimum wage for the long hours they put in, and some make even less.

So to see these people’s pay cut even further at the whim of the federal government (whose members make much more than local politicians) is not only an insult to these local representatives, it threatens the role of local government itself.

We need good and trustworthy people to lead locally, and offering them a pittance for their efforts will not attract the people we need.

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