Semantics trump reality on bonus pay

To understand the spreading outrage in B.C. over the Liberals’ revisionist “bonus” scheme for senior bureaucrats at Community Living B.C...

To understand the spreading outrage in B.C. over the Liberals’ revisionist “bonus” scheme for senior bureaucrats at Community Living B.C. (CLBC), a quick visit to the government press release archives is in order.

On Oct. 21, 2011 Social Development minister Stephanie Cadieux issued a release in which she claimed the CLBC board had “agreed to end the variable pay compensation system which provides incentive plan performance bonuses.”

“In a people-first organization like CLBC, an incentive plan performance based on targets and measures is, quite simply, not appropriate,” added communications director Susan Mader on behalf of the minister.

You will recall Cadieux had replaced cabinet colleague Harry Bloy who was fired for dithering incompetence. The new minister was generously applauded for clamping down on a Crown agency that had been having a field day closing scores of group homes and cutting services to people with developmental disabilities.

Now Cadieux says the bonuses are simply being rolled into executives’ base pay. She also says she never promised to reduce the money managers receive, only to do away with the incentive-pay structure. She says the bonuses were actually a salary hold back and that government could not legally claw it back.

This is a triumph of semantics over reality. We all know government can do anything it bloody well pleases.

NDP MLA Nicholas Simons (Powell River-Sunshine Coast) speaks for thousands of fair-minded bystanders when he says “it was wrong for the Liberals to tell the public they were getting rid of executive bonuses, when all along they planned to roll them into salaries.”

The critic for CLBC says: “The bonus program remained in place to the end of the fiscal year with the bonuses set to be paid out next month. Going forward, executives will have what used to be their ‘incentive pay’ rolled into their base salaries, guaranteeing them a raise regardless of their performance and despite the ongoing problems at the organization.”

Simons reminds us the Liberals also committed last fall to expand the mandate of the Representative for Children and Youth to give that office the power to advocate for young adults transitioning from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to CLBC. That has not happened.

On an issue with such explosive optics one might reasonably expect the premier to show some leadership. Instead, Christy Clark has opted to play the blame game. Yes folks, this is all the NDP’s fault.

“I think the Opposition should probably take a fair amount of responsibility for having tried to mislead people about what was really happening,” Clark says.

“I think the way that critics are describing this is absolutely just semantics,” she says. “When the critics say that this is a raise, it just absolutely is not true. The base pay for those executives is the same. It hasn’t changed.”

Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman has nailed it: “I think it’s a poke in the eye for taxpayers. We were led to believe last fall that the bonus structure was gone. I think most taxpayers thought that meant that money was going to go back into front-line CLBC services where it belongs. Now we find out that nothing’s changed, just the way the executives get this money has been altered.”

It is hard not to be cynical and angry as this crew continues to make a mockery of “families first.” M

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