The motion would largely amount to a symbolic gesture, but an important one as private sector and low-income workers bear the brunt of COVID’s economic fallout
OTTAWA — A senator is proposing to freeze pay hikes for all federal politicians as the pandemic continues to roil the Canadian economy, part of an effort to ensure that public officials are not entirely insulated from the economic fallout of government-imposed lockdowns.
Sen. Lucie Moncion, who represents Ontario, introduced a motion in the upper chamber earlier this week that would call upon the Liberal government to defer pay hikes for Parliamentarians as a way to “prevent the privileges that senators enjoy from becoming disconnected from the harsh economic reality facing many Canadians.”
Members of both the House of Commons and Senate receive automatic pay raises equal to inflation every year. MPs make annual salaries of $182,600, not including additional payments for special positions like prime minister or opposition leader. Senators make a base salary of $157,600.
The motion by Moncion, an independent senator appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would effectively freeze those automatic pay hikes for both MPs and Senators, beginning in fiscal year 2021-22, for a maximum of three years. Public salaries for the current year were approved before the pandemic struck, said Moncion, who heads the Senate sub-committee that approves administrative costs for the upper chamber. This year’s pay increases were confirmed in April.
In an interview on Thursday, Moncion said there was widespread support for the motion among senators. It will likely be voted upon early next week. The pay freeze would save taxpayers roughly $1.7 million, she said.
The motion would largely amount to a symbolic gesture, but an important one as private sector and low-income workers bear the brunt of the economic fallout of COVID-19.
“For people who hold public office, when you see people struggling around you it is hard to see, it’s hard to wrap your head around,” Moncion said.
The motion comes after government-led economic shutdowns earlier this year put millions of Canadians out of work, while causing many other to accept pay cuts or reduced hours. Many business owners, particularly in hard-hit sectors like retail, tourism and food services, have been struggling to stay afloat as economic restrictions have remained in place more than seven months.
The motion tabled by Sen. Moncion would go some way toward showing solidarity with the Canadian public as lockdowns continue to restrict peoples’ livelihoods, says Aaron Wudrick, director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“We keep hearing all the time that we’re all in this together,” he said. “Well, not really if the government isn’t making any sacrifices while other people are losing their businesses and losing their jobs.”
Government leaders in a number of other countries have already cut their own salaries, often by more sizeable amounts than those recommended in the Moncion motion. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her ministers took 20 per cent pay cuts for six months as lockdowns persisted in the country. Japanese lawmakers have taken 20 per cent pay cuts; government officials in India accepted 30 per cent cuts in April for one year.
“We’re not asking for something that politicians in other countries aren’t doing,” said Wudrick. His group has been calling on politicians to take temporary pay freezes for months, after other countries took similar steps.
Earlier this week, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ordered seven per cent pay cuts for all political staff in his United Conservative Party.
Sen. Moncion acknowledges that her motion would only mark a small step on the part of Senators and MPs, particularly at a time when a second wave of lockdowns in some parts of the countries place ever more stress on entrepreneurs.
“I feel for people who have their own businesses, I feel for restaurants,” she said. “I walk downtown here in Ottawa and you walk down Sparks Street and there’s almost nobody there, it’s deserted. I’m just thinking wow, how can these people survive?”