More “Do as I say”

Jeff Burgar

We always say volunteers on local government boards, like museum and library and other groups that operate on taxpayer money, should be paid to attend the meetings.

An argument is often made, if you want good councillors, you have to pay.

So why not extend that to other people going to meetings and sitting on committees and boards? When such committees are handling taxpayer money, pay should be normal practice. It often is not.

More galling is that many of these same boards or committees have local officials sitting on them. All of whom are paid to attend meetings!

Actually, these days most local government committees have paid members on them. Because of course, we have never heard any councillor ever say, “Well, everybody else is volunteering and not being paid. So why should I get paid?”

There very likely are such unpaid elected officials, somewhere, someplace. We salute them for their contribution.

By the same token of paying, we’ve always favoured those so-called volunteer positions be filled with educated and trained people. If an education seminar opportunity comes up nearby, a few board members should be sent. The cost of travel, lodging, meals and a daily stipend should be paid by the board. The whole idea is, if public money is being spent, then the spenders should have the best skills possible.

It is also a nice perk for those people even if they get a cheque for going to meetings. Their pay rarely makes up for the cost of time. In fact, elected councillors themselves make much the same arguments when angling for a raise.

Yet strangely, councillors who think nothing of travelling right across the country to a convention, are often the first ones to balk at paying board costs. The same councillors on a jaunt will often drag along staff members as well. Heck, it’s just taxpayer money, right? The fact is, there are many board members who are much more responsible with money than many councillors.

With all this in mind, those cross-country junkets are the target of one Alberta council. That is the M.D. of Bonnyville. The M.D. hopes to mobilize action against a national body called the Federation of Canadian Municipalities [FCM.] FCM is dominated by central Canadian local governments in Ontario and Quebec. Bonnyville says the FCM is unresponsive to the needs of western Canadians, especially Albertans.

In fact, some Alberta councils boycotted the last national convention two years ago. Others, predictably it might be said, decided it was best to make a case in person. You know, spending any spare time networking, complaining and persuading. This would be between intensive workshops and listening to speeches. And also shopping and gawking at touristy sites. And by the way, the food was delicious.

We completely support the perks of being government. But facts are, the FCM is a disgrace. Plus, these jaunts rarely pay off compared to their cost.

Bonnyville is absolutely right. Whether they get the wholehearted support they deserve from other councils has yet to be seen.

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