WHISTLER – NDP leader John Horgan used his first speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention to blast the B.C. government for a report criticizing generous wage hikes for municipal staff.
"The B.C. Liberals are saying to you, you don't know how to run a peanut stand," Horgan told delegates at the Whistler Conference Centre Thursday.
Horgan drew applause when he called the report "shoddy, politically motivated" and an "an insult" to mayors, councillors and regional district directors, purposely leaked before the UBCM meetings to embarrass local politicians heading into their November elections.
The Ernst and Young study was released days before the convention by the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. It calculated that unionized municipal staff received pay increases of 38 per cent between 2001 and 2012, twice as much as unionized provincial staff, and ahead of inflation of 23 per cent during the same period.
The report also highlighted the escalation of senior municipal staff salaries, with city managers in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge making more than the $230,000 paid to provincial deputy ministers.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong acknowledged that there are "some gaps in the data" used in the report, which was compiled without the knowledge or participation of local governments. But he said it is a reminder of how the province balanced its budget starting last year.
"In our case a big part of that is being very disciplined in negotiations on wage settlements," de Jong said in an interview. "And if you don't apply that discipline, your cost structure can get out of hand pretty quickly."
Horgan praised public education and accused the government of "disrespecting" teachers during their recent strike, promising an NDP government would do better.
He praised a study done for the UBCM on the impact of increasing ferry fares, and accused Transportation Minister Todd Stone of replying to it with "a four-page lecture about how things are going to get better with another four per cent increase" and converting the fleet's largest vessels to use natural gas fuel.