Premier Christy Clark takes questions from reporters at Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler last week.

Is CUPE running your city hall?

Premier Christy Clark forced municipal employee wage increases onto the agenda of the annual UBCM convention

WHISTLER – The big story at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention was a report commissioned by the B.C. government that reveals municipal pay increases for unionized staff have been running at twice the rate of provincial raises.

When I asked Premier Christy Clark about the intent of this report, leaked just before the annual UBCM convention, she was blunt. It’s to get this issue onto the agenda for the November municipal elections, which the province has decreed shall be for four-year terms instead of three. After local elections, discussions with surviving and incoming municipal politicians will resume.

Things have been going pretty well for the main municipal union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, for the last couple of decades. As local election turnout has gone from bad to worse, municipal employees themselves have become an increasingly dominant voting bloc.

Then there are the “labour councils” in urban centres, now almost entirely fronts for public sector unions. They quietly survey council candidates to determine their level of affection for ever-growing public payrolls, and dole out campaign funds accordingly. Sometimes they organize full slates, with cuddly names like “Protect Coquitlam” to appeal to low-information voters.

During last week’s convention in Whistler, I caught up to Finance Minister Mike de Jong in a brief break from the dozens of meetings cabinet ministers have with mayors, councillors and regional directors.

Is the province going to impose some kind of solution?

“There’s not some hidden legislative agenda,” de Jong replied. More data needs to be gathered, and the report shows ongoing problems with management salaries at the provincial level as well.

Is this the first step to imposing a tight-fisted centralized bargaining agency, such as the government set up last year to wrestle the B.C. Teachers’ Federation to the ground?

“We haven’t formulated our answer,” de Jong said. “What the data does suggest, however, is that there may well be some merit [to centralized bargaining]. One of the recommendations points to a more coordinated approach to some of the negotiations that take place.”

Will the new municipal auditor general have a role in this?

“The purpose of the auditor was not to become an enforcement mechanism,” de Jong said. “It was to play a traditional audit function on whether taxpayers are getting value for money. To that extent I suppose a municipal auditor might be able to comment on the advantages of coordinating efforts.”

NDP leader John Horgan’s attack on the compensation report was as predictable as it was selective. In his speech to delegates, Horgan called it “one-sided, politically motivated, shoddy work” designed to embarrass local politicians on the eve of their elections.

Did he question Ernst and Young’s numbers, the pay increases for municipal union staff of 38 per cent between 2001 and 2012, compared to 19 per cent for unionized provincial staff? Did he question their calculation that over that period, inflation totalled 23 per cent? No. The facts being against him, he went with an emotional pitch to distract from them.

Recall that during the final days of the teachers’ strike, Horgan suddenly decided that what was really needed was binding arbitration. This was 24 hours after the teachers’ union took that position.

So there’s the big question to be considered by voters as local elections draw near. Which candidates are looking out for your interests, and which ones are working on behalf of CUPE?

There’s another troubling trend in manipulation of local government that was more evident than ever at the 2014 UBCM convention. I’ll discuss that in a future column.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Sailings filling up on Northern Sea Wolf

There is a strong demand for the service

New ownership group presents Mount Timothy Resort plans

‘More activity and more people on the hill means more fun’

Thunderstorms in forecast for much of Cariboo Chilcotin

Special weather statements, concerns of flash flooding, for southern B.C. regions

Two Nuxalk artists awarded YVR Art Foundation scholarships

Several Nuxalk artists have won the award, some more than once

Convicted animal abuser to return to B.C. court May 21

Catherine Jessica Adams is facing a breach of probation charge

VIDEO: Protesters in Penticton gather to rally against sleeping-on-sidewalk bylaw

The proposed bylaw would outlaw sitting or lying on the city’s downtown sidewalks

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen Bhavkiran Dhesi

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

PHOTOS: First responders in Fernie rescue baby owl who fell from nest

The baby owl’s inability to fly back to its nest prompted a rescue by first responders

Five takeaways from the Court of Appeal ruling on B.C.’s pipeline law

It’s unclear how many tools are left in B.C.’s toolbox to fight the project

B.C. port workers set to strike on Monday in Vancouver

A strike at two container terminals would affect Canadian trade to Asia

Most Read