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Salaries, Allowances And Support Facilities for Federal and Provincial Legislators
John McDonough

At the time this article was published John McDonough was a researcher with the Research Branch of the Library of Parliament.

The basic and most readily identifiable payment made to Canadian parliamentarians is the "sessional or annual indemnity" sometimes referred to as a "sessional or annual allowance". The indemnities of federal and provincial legislators together with expense allowances and salaries for government, and parliamentary office holders are given in Table II. The words "indemnity" or "allowance" are used instead of the word "salary". The distinction seems to rest on the assumption that Members are basically ordinary citizens who have their own occupations, who give of their time to serve the interest of their communities and that their service is worth far more than what they receive in their capacity as Members. The term salary is generally used for those fulltime occupants of government and parliamentary office. This language harkens back to the 19th century concept of a Member as an amateur and part-time legislator, as well as the expectation that he would be a responsible member of the propertied classes. These assumptions no longer hold, especially in the federal Parliament and the larger provinces where being a legislator is a full-time vocation with remuneration to match.

The indemnity and expense allowance payments usually cover a one-year period regardless of the number of parliamentary sessions or their length. Manitoba is an 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 but not necessarily equal 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 for the indemnity and expense allowance were interpreted to apply for only one parliamentary session. As there were two sessions in 1978 the Nova Scotia Members were paid a full indemnity and expense allowance for each session. This anomaly was eliminated by an amendment to the House of Assembly Act on May 15, 1979. Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction which has a separate and explicit "sessional allowance" which is paid on a sessional basis, although there is usually only one session per year.

The indemnity payments range from a high of $31,236 for Members of the Quebec National Assembly followed closely by indemnities for federal legislators to $9,962 for Members of the Saskatchewan Legislature; this, however, is augmented by at least one sessional allowance of $5,385 for a total of $15,347, so the indemnity for Prince Edward Island legislators is the lowest at $10,000 per annum followed closely by indemnities paid in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. This kind of straight comparison is inadequate 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, although certainly not all, Members of Parliament look upon their position as a fulltime vocation and many are effectively precluded from earning very much in the way of additional income. Most Members of the federal House have also to maintain more than one yearly residence. The demands are not nearly so stringent in most of

For many years, the salaries of Canadian legislators could only be increased by passing the requisite bill through the legislature. The problem with this process was that, even when the raise was based on the recommendations of an impartial committee, it invited general criticism from the public. This meant that governments tended to delay the legislation, thus increasing the need for more dramatic and therefore more unpopular increases. To eliminate the need for a full scale debate on each and every increase, the Canadian Parliament passed an amendment to the Senate and House of Commons Act in 1975 which would bring about an automatic increase in the indemnity, expense allowance and parliamentary salaries of an amount equal to the percentage increase in the Industrial Composite Index for the preceding year or 7 per cent, whichever was the lesser. Manitoba, in 1974, has been the first Canadian jurisdiction to introduce an indexing formula; although, it was only to apply to the indemnity and expense allowance. The other salaries in Manitoba are to be reviewed on an "as when required basis". Quebec also made provision for an index mechanism in 1974. This legislation was revised in 1979 to establish a 6 per cent ceiling on increases, and for 1979 and 1980 the salaries of government and parliamentary officials have been frozen. New Brunswick introduced their indexing formula on the indemnity and expense allowance in 1975.

In 1979, after major reviews of legislative remuneration by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform the Eckardt Commission, in British Columbia and an independent committee of review the Miller Committee in Alberta, these two provinces introduced the indexation of indemnities, allowances and salaries. In British Columbia, the indexing mechanism used an "adjustment factor" based on 75 per cent of the rate of increase or decrease of the "average weekly wage" in the province. Alberta set a ceiling of 5 per cent on any possible increase or decrease and it was to be based on the "All-items Consumer Price Index" for Edmonton and Calgary.

Saskatchewan also revised its legislation in 1979 to include the indexation of indemnities, allowances and salaries based on the Industrial Composite Index with no upper or lower ceiling on the potential increase or decrease. As a result Saskatchewan Members will receive an increase of 7 1/2 per cent over 1979 remuneration levels.

There is no indexation formula for Ontario legislators. However, the Commission on Election Contributions and Expenses shall review and make recommendations with respect to indemnities and allowances. The Commission reports to the Speaker who, in turn, lays the report before the Assembly. This procedure is performed annually and adjustments are made effective April 1. Nova Scotia is required by statute to review the indemnity and expense allowance rates, and the salaries of parliamentary officials every four years by a Select Committee of the House. The last review in 1978 not only established, the indemnity and expense allowance rates for that year but provided increased rates to come into effect on the first of January for every year through to 1982. The indemnity was to rise by $800 each year and the expense allowance by half that much. This leaves only Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island following the traditional process of having changes in parliamentary indemnities left on and ad hoc basis to government initiative.

The other widely known payment to Canadian legislators is the expense allowance. This payment is expected to cover those expenses that arise in relation to a Member's performance of his duties hence their usual tax-free status. These payments are known by various names: entertainment allowance, travel allowance, constituency allowance. The Federal Government, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, and the Northern 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 $13,500 to $17,500 for Canadian MPs to $5,000 for PEI.

The provincial legislatures, especially the smaller ones, where most Members spend less time away from their homes and often retain other occupational responsibilities.

Again, these figures are deceptive as there are great many additional subsidies which vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Table III lists in a concise and abbreviated way, most of these additional perks. Note that federal legislators do not receive a rent allowance, as this is expected to be covered by their more generous expense allowance. If we add the maximum rend subsidy to the Ontario and Quebec expense allowances, they would total $13,460 and $12,100 respectively and be quite comparable to the federal expense allowance. Many jurisdictions have generous allowances for Members to use for travelling and, in general, an effort is made to cover their travelling and accommodation expenses to attend committees and other official functions when their legislature is not sitting.

Most jurisdiction base their remuneration for travelling on a flat rate per mile or kilometre and there is considerable variance not only in the amount per unit (these rates have not been included here) but in the number of trips allowed. Alberta is unique in its use of credit cards for gas and oil. Ministers of the Crown in most jurisdictions and sometimes other officials such as the Speaker, leaders of opposition parties, among others, receive increased payments under many of the allowances listed for the ordinary Member; they may receive additional allowances and other perks not included in these tables such as access to government limousines. This is another complex topic and it has not been discussed here.

Some jurisdictions extract a financial penalty from their legislature if they fail to attend the legislature for more then a stipulated number of days during a session without reasonable cause. The severity of the penalty varies from $250 a day (after 10 days) in British Columbia to no penalty at all in Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. There are other possible compensations such as subsidized meals, barber shops, relocation allowances, and severance allowances which have not been Table IV examines some other services and funds which are provided to assist the legislator in the carrying out of his duties. Most individual Canadian legislator have some office space in or near the legislature and have access to, at the very least, a secretarial pool. Federal, Ontario and Quebec parliamentarians have their own secretary, indeed federal Members may employ up to four staff personnel in their Ottawa offices. Now all but New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon provide at least some financial assistance to help the Member run a constituency office. Quebec is certainly the most generous in this regard, making some provision for the possibility of two offices in its largest constituencies. Non partisan research services and Parliamentary Intern programs which have been proven effective in Ottawa are becoming popular in the larger provinces. Additional funds and services for the parliamentary parties are handled in a number of ways.

Most jurisdictions now make at least a modest provision for research assistance to the parties represented in their legislatures. In Alberta and to a lesser extent of the opposition parties. In Nova Scotia funds for research and secretarial assistance are passed through the caucus offices of the parties. British Columbia and Manitoba also use the legislature caucus offices for secretarial pools but the basic research funds are additionally provided. This is also the situation in Saskatchewan, and in its regard, it is the most generous of the small provinces. Ontario, Quebec and the federal Parliament provide relatively major research facilities for the parties, utilizing both the offices of the opposition leaders and special research funds. Ontario also supplies monies to the caucuses. This is not to suggest that any party in any jurisdiction is satisfied that its research needs can be met with the funds provided.

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Vol 3 no 1

Last Updated: 2020-09-14