Or so the old saying goes. Although, there's a flaw in the statement on its face, because who associates monkeys with peanuts? Nobody. When I saw "peanut", the first member of the animal kingdom that springs to mind is whom? That's right - the elephant.
But I digress. Which, at the START of a conversation, is pretty darned impressive.
Nation, the question of pay and benefits for our elected representatives has again reared its head, with the recent examples of Calgary City Council's decision to NOT actively participate in discussion of their own pay, and the severance packages paid out to former MLA's who retired prior to the last provincial election.
Now, there have been plenty of suggestions made about how, exactly, we should go about setting the pay of our elected officials. Whether it's a direct correlation to another position (in the case of provincial MLA salaries, they were linked to judges), or through an arcane equation that factors in inflation, quality of life measures, or economic health (or a combination thereof), there seems to be one over-riding sentiment:
We don't want politicians deciding how much they should be paid.
So, once we get past the fact that we seem to be in near universal agreement on the issue of what we DON'T want, the question becomes: What DO we want?
I've heard a lot of suggestions as late - some of them make sense to me and some of them don't, but if everyone had the same taste, you'd all be chasing the future Mrs. Savage - which, lucky for me, you're not. Some of the more notable ones include tying the salary for MLA's directly to the provincial minimum wage, and tying City council salaries to the annual budgetary property tax increases - as in, the more taxes go UP, the more Council salaries go DOWN.
I'm not thrilled with either of those plans. They're both a starting point, certainly, but the most obvious problems that apply to both proposals are twofold: Firstly, they assume that the only way to measure performance of a government is by using economic factors as a measuring stick. Secondly, they're both able to be directly affected by the politicians themselves - the provincial government can easily raise the minimum wage, to get themselves a raise as well (devastating small business-people in the process). Likewise, city council can hold the line on property taxes so as not to take a hit on their own paycheques - thus denying residents of much needed programs and services.
To my mind, there needs to be a way of measuring quality of life, and taking that into account when determining political pay.
One suggestion I read along those lines suggested letting the people of the constituency decide what their representative was worth. This would be all fine and good, except for the vast swaths of uninformed voters, who would shipped to the polls by the busload from churches and community centres by the incumbent's campaign, promising them NEW community centres and schools, etc, if they vote to give him/her a raise to a paltry $130,000/year.
Let's remember that many of these same voters consider Jarome Iginla underpaid at $7,000,000/year.
Plus, factor in that $75,000 goes a LOT further in, say, Cardston than it does in Fort Mac.
Ultimately, we're going to have to decide how it is that we determine pay variance, and how often it applies. Does the salary of a city councillor, for example, change every year? Or is it set for the 3 years of their term, and then reviewed and changed before the next election? Whatever we decide, though, we're going to have to STICK to it, and not rake our leaders over the coals when they refuse to directly intervene in the process (as Calgary's council did earlier this year). We want to set these structures up so that the politicians can't directly decide how much they should get paid - and we should remind ourselves that THAT particular blade cuts both ways - neither should they be able to decide how LITTLE they get paid.
Some public servants, after all, donate huge sums - in rare cases, the ENTIRETY of their salary - to charity.
We need to make sure, though, that we're compensating public officials fairly in comparison to the private sector. We don't want to OVER-pay, and end up with MLA's who are just in it for the money. Neither, though, do we want to UNDER-pay, and end up with underqualified people trying to run the business of government, because everyone with any expertise is making 4 times as much in the private sector.
This is far from a simple question - but it IS an important one. The entire reason I set up this blog in the first place wasn't so I could stand on my own soapbox and scream partisan slogans or spread rumours anonymously or get caught up in my own perceived importance - it's so I can help us, ALL of us, participate in an actual CONVERSATION from time to time, about issues that actually MATTER*.
So, I put it to you, Nation: What should we be paying our political representatives? How should that pay be determined? How often should we review it? By what means?
*statement does not apply to posts related to sports or e.s.'s lordship over the alberta political blogosphere