Premier Christy Clark takes questions from reporters at Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler last week.

Is CUPE running your city hall?

Premier Christy Clark forced municipal employee wage increases onto the agenda of the annual UBCM convention

WHISTLER – The big story at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention was a report commissioned by the B.C. government that reveals municipal pay increases for unionized staff have been running at twice the rate of provincial raises.

When I asked Premier Christy Clark about the intent of this report, leaked just before the annual UBCM convention, she was blunt. It’s to get this issue onto the agenda for the November municipal elections, which the province has decreed shall be for four-year terms instead of three. After local elections, discussions with surviving and incoming municipal politicians will resume.

Things have been going pretty well for the main municipal union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, for the last couple of decades. As local election turnout has gone from bad to worse, municipal employees themselves have become an increasingly dominant voting bloc.

Then there are the “labour councils” in urban centres, now almost entirely fronts for public sector unions. They quietly survey council candidates to determine their level of affection for ever-growing public payrolls, and dole out campaign funds accordingly. Sometimes they organize full slates, with cuddly names like “Protect Coquitlam” to appeal to low-information voters.

During last week’s convention in Whistler, I caught up to Finance Minister Mike de Jong in a brief break from the dozens of meetings cabinet ministers have with mayors, councillors and regional directors.

Is the province going to impose some kind of solution?

“There’s not some hidden legislative agenda,” de Jong replied. More data needs to be gathered, and the report shows ongoing problems with management salaries at the provincial level as well.

Is this the first step to imposing a tight-fisted centralized bargaining agency, such as the government set up last year to wrestle the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to the ground?

“We haven’t formulated our answer,” de Jong said. “What the data does suggest, however, is that there may well be some merit [to centralized bargaining]. One of the recommendations points to a more coordinated approach to some of the negotiations that take place.”

Will the new municipal auditor general have a role in this?

“The purpose of the auditor was not to become an enforcement mechanism,” de Jong said. “It was to play a traditional audit function on whether taxpayers are getting value for money. To that extent I suppose a municipal auditor might be able to comment on the advantages of coordinating efforts.”

NDP leader John Horgan’s attack on the compensation report was as predictable as it was selective. In his speech to delegates, Horgan called it “one-sided, politically motivated, shoddy work” designed to embarrass local politicians on the eve of their elections.

Did he question Ernst and Young’s numbers, the pay increases for municipal union staff of 38 per cent between 2001 and 2012, compared to 19 per cent for unionized provincial staff? Did he question their calculation that over that period, inflation totalled 23 per cent? No. The facts being against him, he went with an emotional pitch to distract from them.

Recall that during the final days of the teachers’ strike, Horgan suddenly decided that what was really needed was binding arbitration. This was 24 hours after the teachers’ union took that position.

So there’s the big question to be considered by voters as local elections draw near. Which candidates are looking out for your interests, and which ones are working on behalf of CUPE?

There’s another troubling trend in manipulation of local government that was more evident than ever at the 2014 UBCM convention. I’ll discuss that in a future column.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

High winds cause havoc for sailors

RCMP assists boats with sail problems on Okanagan Lake

Late night confrontation between two men in Peachland

RCMP was called to the scene of a physcial encounter on Saturday evening where one man was injured

Human remains found at Silver Creek property

RCMP have been searching the property in the 2200 block of Salmon River Road for the past three days

Your weekend story highlights

Each weekend, we choose top stories from the week for you to enjoy

Chinese pioneers honoured

A sign was unveiled in City Park Saturday to honour the Chinese contributions to Kelowna

VIDEO: Sears liquidation sales continue across B.C.

Sales are expected to continue into the New Year

Who is Curtis Sagmoen?

The Observer reveals what we know about the man attached to the Silver Creek property where human remains were found

VIDEO: Oprah Winfrey and a celebrities attend ‘B.C. Miracle Concert’

Fundraiser featured Foster, Steven Tyler, The Tenors, Matteo Bocelli, Laura Bretan, Carly Rae Jepsen

First-place Warriors edge Caps, visit ‘Backs today

West Kelowna scores twice in 25 seconds early in third to overtake Cowichan Valley in BCHL action

Grab a book; thank your librarian

All libraries are cornerstones of their communities and we celebrate them during library month

Five decades of volunteering

Even though she is approaching 70, Merle kindred continues to volunteer around the world

Human remains found at Silver Creek property

RCMP have been searching the property in the 2200 block of Salmon River Road for the past three days

Vehicle leaves scene after striking lamp post

After hitting a lamp post on Springfield Road, a vehicle has left the scene

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Most Read