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Retiring Vancouver mayor, councillors to get ‘transition allowance’

How much money should Mayor Gregor Robertson and the six city councillors who retire this fall receive on their way out the door?

Here’s a question that is bound to generate some thoughtful and articulate responses: How much money should Mayor Gregor Robertson and the six city councillors who retire this fall receive on their way out the door?

Expected answer number one: Nothing.

Expected answer number two: Something, I guess.

Expected answer number three: Who’s Greg Robinson?

 Mayor Gregor Robertson and six city councillors who retire after this fall’s civic election are entitled to a “transition allowance” when they leave office. Photo Dan ToulgoetMayor Gregor Robertson and six city councillors who retire after this fall’s civic election are entitled to a “transition allowance” when they leave office. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The fact is, Robertson and the six councillors who retire after the Oct. 20 election are entitled to some cash to help them “transition” into whatever it is they do post-politics. I’ll tell you why in a few sentences, but thought I’d get right to the dollar amounts.

Let’s start with Robertson, who was first elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2011 and 2014. When he’s done, he will have served 10 years. So what’s that worth? A cool $28,843.87.

Vision Vancouver councillors Tim Stevenson and Raymond Louie, who were both elected way back in 2002 as members of COPE, will each receive $19,114.47. Their Vision mates, Andrea Reimer and Kerry Jang, will pick up $13,202.51 each.

NPA councillors George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball will receive $9,670.64 each.

Geoff Meggs, who resigned last year as a Vision councillor to become Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff, was already paid $7,335.73 for serving two terms.

The four councillors who want to stick around for another term—the NPA’s Melissa De Genova, the Greens’ Adriane Carr, Vision’s Heather Deal and Yes Vancouver’s Hector Bremner—will all be entitled to a payout, too, if they lose their re-election bids.

De Genova would get $5,866.78, Carr a little bit more at $9,670.64 and Bremner $1,616.11. Deal would leave her seat on council with $16,035.00, which is probably enough to take her timeworn SUV through a car wash.

I should note reporter Bob Mackin did the heavy lifting to get these figures and posted a story on The Breaker June 28, when I was in America on a holiday.

Now some explanation on why these public servants are entitled to the cash…

Back on Feb. 24 of 2016, council unanimously approved a “transition allowance” as part of a bigger package that included a salary increase that boosted councillors to $82,000 per year. They also approved a one-time lump sum of $8,968 to cover off their past year on the job and an additional $3,000 for extended health benefits.

The increases were based on a review conducted by a committee that examined what other councillors across this great land earn for doing the people’s work. I won’t list the salaries of all city councils here because I’ve written about this before. But know that councillors in Ottawa ($93,999) and Winnipeg ($89,346) make a better living than the Vancouver crew.

Anyway, my focus of this piece was supposed to be about the “transition allowance.” So here’s the condensed, edited version of the committee’s rationale for the allowance:

  • The absence of a transition allowance is a material difference in the benefits provided by the city when compared to the market. The majority of comparable cities offer post retirement/transition payments to council members.
  • The committee recognized the role of a council member is equivalent to full-time employment.
  • The role is highly public in nature and at times requires council members to make difficult decisions, which may be unpopular.
  • As in the case of other elected officials, service to the city may result in council members experiencing a period of transition upon the conclusion of their terms.
  • For these reasons, the committee recommends councillors and the mayor be eligible for one week of transition allowance for every year of service on council to a maximum of eight weeks’ salary.

A few days ago, I circulated an email to the mayor and retiring councillors to have them justify their retirement allowances. I heard from Reimer, Affleck and Robertson, all via email.

Reimer:  “The fact that I am answering this at 2:15 a.m., and I started work today at 8:30 a.m.—and this is a pretty average day—probably tells you that a salary increase from what was considered part-time wages was justified. However, the point of appointing third party HR professionals to an independent committee was to get their advice, so I thought it was important that we take it.”

Affleck: “Well, I voted against it at the time.”

Then he emailed me a piece I wrote about the vote back in 2016. What Affleck voted against was a pay increase. So did Reimer. The minutes of the meeting, however, show that both of them and the rest of council were unanimous in voting for the transition allowance.

Robertson: “The current compensation framework for council members is based on recommendations from an independent committee. Council members receive fair and transparent compensation for their work that is in line with other municipalities but well below comparable work in the private sector and other levels of government.”

All this talk about a “transition allowance” will be familiar to regular readers, who will recall the hubbub created in March by the majority of Metro Vancouver’s board of directors, which includes several Vancouver city councillors, who voted themselves a pay increase and retirement allowance.

Public backlash caused the board to rescind the vote and agree to create an independent panel to review the remuneration of directors. Whatever happens with that effort will go before a new board after the civic election.

Speaking of money…

I’ve got a couple other things I wanted to point out before I stop typing and take a summer break.

First, when you go to the section on the city’s website that shows how much the mayor and his councillors earn—$165,700 and $82,029 respectively, along with $3,048 for extended health—it is in 2017 dollars.

Someone at the city might want to update that info.

Second, and what really mystifies me, is this short preamble on the salary page: “Councillor salaries are based on the average earning of Vancouver residents who are employed full-time, using census data for Vancouver.”

If that statement is correct, and the average earning of a Vancouverite working full-time is at least 82K per year, then here’s a question: Why are so many people complaining about low pay and how unaffordable this city is?

Someone at the city, or some expert analyst of census data, please tell me this is a mistake—that 82K is not the average salary for a full-time employee in Vancouver. If it is, many workers in this city have a long way to go to becoming average.

Never mind retirement.

Good luck everybody, see you in September.