Robyn Benson, PSAC



“In our party,” Stephen Harper said in his less-than-memorable speech to the party faithful in Calgary, “public service must mean private sacrifice. That’s why Laureen and I first left our home here in Calgary. We didn’t go to Ottawa to join private clubs or become part of some ‘elite.’ That’s not who you are; it’s not who we are.”

For some reason this reminds me of an earlier speech “Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the world.” The man can say just about anything with a straight face.

In any case, let’s have a closer look at these elites. Surely we wouldn’t find them in the public sector, where Treasury Board president Tony Clement has vowed to cut back, claw back and transform the Public Service into a lean, mean operation, in part by gutting collective bargaining and laying off thousands of workers. Oh, wait…

You could be Nigel Wright, paid a handsome severance allowance after putting in all of two-and-a-half years at the Prime Minister’s Office. The same generosity applies to all ministerial staff.

That’s two weeks salary for every year worked—twice what federal public workers, most of whom no longer receive severance pay, used to get on retirement, and four times what they got after resignation. (Those workers needed to put in ten years to qualify for severance, by the way.) In addition, it’s now much less certain that Wright left his job voluntarily: the Prime Minister now appears to be saying that he was dismissed for just cause. If so, and he had been a unionized public worker, he would have received nothing at all. And speaking of accountability and transparency, the government refuses to let the public know Wright’s salary and the amount of his severance—all paid for by the taxpayer.

Or—close your eyes—you could be a Deputy Minister.

Then you’ve got it made. For every year worked, you get two years of pensionable service. Yes, you read right. And there are big bonuses on top of that.

But it gets much better. Even when you leave the Public Service, you can keep buying more years of service to increase your pension while you pursue another career, or enjoy retirement.

Federal public sector unions are not permitted to bargain pensions. But the ministerial assistants and Deputy Ministers didn’t have to bargain to get entitlements that no worker in the country enjoys.

They’re an elite, in other words. And judging from the recent shenanigans in the Senate, where 56 Harper appointees now loll about, there are others, even if these days there are limits.

All of this is to say that, far from being opposed to elites, the Harper government fondly nurtures them. Indeed, when you hear the word “elite” being uttered with staged contempt, take a close look at the speakers. More often than not, they’re really talking about themselves.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on November 6, 2013 8:30 AM.

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