The Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark is becoming a little too liberal with taxpayers’ dollars. It is also going ahead with policies not conducive to creating jobs, at a time when the economy is uncertain at best.
That message came through from Monday’s Speech from the Throne, the first under the Clark administration.
The government is indicating that it will end a “net zero” policy which has kept labour costs at a fixed level. Under the policy, public sector unions were asked to settle for contracts that did not increase overall costs. If benefits increased, other costs needed to be adjusted downwards. This remains a sensible policy in regards to public sector jobs.
Public sector employees, for the most part, make as much or more than their private sector counterparts. Their jobs are far more secure, and they have generous benefits. Their defined benefit pension plans are a private sector rarity.
The economy is in turmoil in much of the world. Even in Canada, which has been a bastion of stability, there is considerable uncertainy. This is no time to start boosting public sector labour costs, as taxpayers should not be asked for more until the economy improves dramatically.
This sets a bad example for municipal leaders, some of whom were hoping to contain labour costs after years of generous salary increases. They will soon be negotiating new contracts with their unions. Steady wage increases at a time of frozen wages and pensions for most taxpayers has meant rising property taxes are much more of a burden.
Upcoming municipal contracts should be negotiated with the “net zero” policy in mind. This will be tough, now that the government has signalled its intentions to ease away from the policy. The net effect will be higher property and provincial taxes, at a time when most people are stretched to find extra dollars. This isn’t right.
Meanwhile, the government is establishing a new statutory holiday in February, starting in 2013. While the idea of an extra day off (with pay) in mid-winter is good in theory, it comes as employers face higher costs due to the defeat of the HST.
Neither will help employers create jobs, at a time when Clark insists that is one of her top priorities.
The province needs to set a better example in the bargaining and job creation departments.