The chamber of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Jaahnlieb/Dreamstime
The Northwest Territories’ MLAs have decided to reduce their pay increase this year from 6.8 percent to 3.02 percent.
The decision – yet to be finalized but backed by a majority of the 19-strong caucus – came following a Tuesday debate that was at times hard to watch for anyone earning less than $114,000 a year.
That’s the base pay an MLA earns. On Tuesday, MLAs spoke frankly about their interpretation of whether that figure is enough.
After Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson said even a three-percent increase was too much, and MLAs should freeze their pay this year, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said he disagreed.
Freezing MLAs’ pay “feeds into a narrative that politicians are paid too much, work too little and are expendable,” O’Reilly told colleagues.
“We all work very hard here and I’m probably not the only MLA that is not doing this for the money, because if I wanted more money, I would have gone back to my old job.”
Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby concurred.
“I work constantly, all the time,” Nokleby said. “People can call me what they want. They can call me greedy, they can call me anything, they can say I’m out for myself. By telling MLAs that we shouldn’t be getting raises when we’ve been killing ourselves for four years during a pandemic, I think it’s disingenuous.”
“We work 24 hours, every day,” said Shane Thompson, the Nahendeh MLA, who earns upward of $175,000 a year as a minister. “I get phone calls at two, four o’clock in the morning. If we wanted more money, we’d go out and do another job.”
Multiple MLAs conceded that discussing – and deciding – their own salaries in public was a bad look.
RJ Simpson, the Hay River North MLA, pointed out that an independent commission exists to decide MLAs’ pay, partly to avoid this very outcome.
In December 2021, before the recent high inflation rate developed in earnest, that three-person panel recommended no significant changes to how NWT MLAs’ pay is worked out.
“I just want to point that out, so people are aware that we are taking a strange approach,” he said. “I admit these are strange times, with inflation what it is.”
Simpson voted to back his father Rocky’s amendment that would have frozen MLAs’ pay, but others voted it down, including RJ’s six cabinet colleagues – marking an unusual split in cabinet’s ranks. The seven cabinet members almost always vote en-bloc. (Rocky Simpson says he will donate the proceeds from any pay increase this year to Hay River’s ski club.)
O’Reilly also tried an amendment, attempting to move the effective date of the bill so that any alteration to pay calculations occurred only in September, once the territorial election period begins. That was also voted down.
Bill 73, which will have the effect of formally shrinking MLAs’ pay increase from 6.8 percent to 3.02 percent, will have its third reading later this week, when it is near-certain to become law.
The bill brings down the increase by ending a mechanism that adjusts MLAs’ pay in direct correlation with the Canadian consumer price index change for the past calendar year. For 2022, that figure was 6.8 percent.
Instead, pay from April 1 onward will be changed based on a five-year average of shifts in the consumer price index, which is designed to even out so-called “spikes” like inflation over the past year.