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Salaries and Allowances of Federal and Provincial Legislators Canada, January 1, 1979
John McDonough

At the time this article was written John McDonough was a researcher in the Research Branch of the library of Parliament. This is an updated version of an article in a previous issue.

For many years legislators in most Canadian jurisdictions could only increase their salary by introducing a bill which went through the usual legislative process. The problem with introducing legislation, even when based on recommendations of an impartial committee, is that it invites public criticism and thus tends to inhibit frequent changes.

To eliminate the need for full scale debate on each increase Parliament passed an amendment to the Senate and House of Commons Act in 1975. Beginning January 1, 1976 there was to be an automatic increase of 7 per cent or an amount equal to the percentage increase in the Industrial Composite Index for the preceding twelve months whichever was lesser. In view of the anti-inflation policy announced in October 1975 the President of the Treasury Board, Mr. Chrétien, subsequently introduced a bill to eliminate the increase for 1976. Some members felt this was contrary to the principle that salary matters would no longer require a specific bill, however, it was adopted and the increase was cancelled.

For the last three years federal parliamentarians have received increases amounting to approximately 5.6 per cent in 1977,, 5.0 per cent in 1978, and 6.4 per cent in January 1979.

The attached table shows the indemnity and expense allowances for federal and provincial legislators. Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick along with the Yukon and Northwest Territories have indexed the salary of legislators. The Federal Government and Quebec revise their salaries on January 1st of the New Year, Manitoba, New Brunswick, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories revise their salaries at the beginning of the first session in the new year or the start of the new fiscal year in April.

Saskatchewan reviews its legislation with respect to the remuneration of elected officials every four years. Its latest legislation in 1974 provided for annual increments over the projected life of the Act. Nova Scotia, the Yukon and Northwest Territories also review their legislation every four years. This review process is now under way in each of these jurisdictions. British Columbia has established a Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and it is expected to report on some of these matters concerning the allowances and remuneration of members early in 1979.

In 1976 British Columbia legislators reduced their salary by 10 per cent for a one-year period which ended on April 1, 1977. In 1978 Alberta legislators reduced their salaries by 2 per cent for the 1978 fiscal year.

The basic and most readily identifiable payment made to elected officials is known variously as a "sessional or annual indemnity" or "sessional or annual allowance". This payment is usually considered to cover a one-year period regardless of the number of parliamentary sessions or their length. Manitoba is one exception. If a second or special session is called -- an infrequent occurrence -- an Order-in-Council is passed authorizing the payment of an additional sum related to the normal sessional indemnity for that year. In 1978 the Nova Scotia House of Assembly Act became the centre of public controversy when its provisions concerning the sessional indemnity and expense allowance were interpreted to apply to only one parliamentary session. As there were two sessions in 1978 members were paid a full indemnity and expense allowance for each session.

These indemnities range from a high of $26,486 for members of the Quebec National Assembly to a low of $8,470 for members of Saskatchewan's Legislature. This kind of straight comparison is unfair because it does not consider the impact of the other allowances and services and because the legislative role in some jurisdictions is more demanding of a member's time and financial resources than it is in others. The length of the sessions and the workload of the House of Commons means that most Members of Parliament look upon their position as a full-time vocation. Most members have to maintain more than one yearly residence. This is not so for many of the provincial legislatures, especially the smaller ones, where most members spend less time away from their homes and often can participate in the provincial assembly while retaining other occupational responsibilities.

An expense allowance is paid to cover expenses that arise in relation to a Member's performance of his duties and as such they are normally tax free. They are known by various names: entertainment allowance, travel allowance, constituency allowance. The Federal Government, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories offer an allowance which varies according to categories established for their constituencies. Special consideration is given to members who represent districts which are particularly large and/or isolated and who can thereby be expected to entail additional transportation and communication costs. These "expense" allowances vary from a high of $12,700 to $16,800 for a member

of the House of Commons to $4,050 for New Brunswick legislators. This again is deceptive as there are a great many additional subsidies which may be granted to legislators in a particular jurisdiction. Indeed, the package of benefits received by any one group of legislators is unique. For example, in Ontario, there is an extra allowance for members of four named northern ridings for the actual costs of travel and accommodation not to exceed $2,500 per year while travelling by air in the electoral district. Most provinces provide a "rent allowance" for members who reside outside the capital region. This varies from an obligation to meet vouchered expenses of up to $25 a day in Manitoba to vouchered expenses which are not to exceed $4,200 a year for some Ontario Legislators. Federal legislators do not receive a rent subsidy; these expenses are expected to be covered by their more generous expense allowance. Saskatchewan offers an interesting variation: each Saskatchewan legislator receives $35 a day for each day the legislature is in session. Also, each Saskatchewan legislator receives a sessional expense allowance on a per session basis of $3,530. Some jurisdictions extract a financial penalty from its legislators if they fail to attend the legislature for more than a stipulated number of days of a session without a reasonable cause. The severity of the penalties varies and many jurisdictions have no such penalty. There are other possible compensations such as subsidized meals, relocation allowances, severance allowances, pensions and special travel allowances. Other services which can assist the legislators in the performance of his duties are: the provision of office space and secretarial and research assistance, constituency office space and secretarial help, telephone and mailing privileges. Funds for the caucus and the provision of library resources and specialized research staffs can also be very important in facilitating the work of the legislator. These additional .. perks", allowances and services vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and they will be considered in later editions of this journal.

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Last Updated: 2020-03-03