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Salaries, Allowances and Support Facilities For Legislators in Canada
John McDonough

At the time this article was written John McDonough was Director, Legislative Research Services, Legislative Library of Alberta.

Parliamentarians are members of a unique profession and their remuneration reflects this uniqueness. In this article the author outlines the main indemnities, allowances and other benefits available in various Canadian jurisdictions.

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 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 more than what they receive in their capacity as members. The term salary is generally reserved for those fulltime occupants of government and parliamentary office. The distinction 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 fulltime vocation with a remuneration to match.

As shown in Table I the indemnity payments range from a high of $43,800 for Senators and members of the House of Commons to $12,800 for Prince Edward Island legislators. Of course, this kind of straight comparison is inadequate because it does not consider the impact of other allowances and services. Furthermore the legislative role in some jurisdictions is more demanding of a member's time and financial resources than it is in others.

The other widely known payment to Canadian legislators is the tax-free expense allowance. It is expected to cover those expenses that arise in relation to a member's performance of his duties; hence their tax-free status. These payments are known by various names: entertainment allowance, travel allowance, constituency allowance.

The federal government, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan 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 $18, 100 to $19,500 for Canadian MPs to $6,300 for P.E.I. legislators. Members of the Northwest Territories Council do not receive an expense allowance. Again, these figures are deceptive as there are a great many additional subsidies which vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Table II lists, in a concise and abbreviated way, most of these additional perks. 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. Additional benefits such as access to government limousines and aircraft have riot been discussed here.

Table III outlines the main support services designed to assist the legislator in carrying out his duties. Most individual Canadian legislators 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 often 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.

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 in New Brunswick such help is channelled through the offices of the leaders of the opposition parties. In Nova Scotia funds for research and secretarial assistance pass 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 this 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. Non-partisan research services are provided to members through the Library of Parliament's Research Branch in Ottawa and similar services led through the legislative libraries in Ontario and Quebec; Alberta legislators will soon be provided with such a service. Research funds and services have continued to expand for federal parliamentarians as well as for legislators in the large provinces and now, more than ever, these services are being entrenched in the smaller provinces and the Territories as Members in all jurisdictions struggle with the "information explosion" with which they are all faced.

Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 4 no 4

Last Updated: 2020-03-03