Outgoing lawmakers qualify for nearly $1M since election day
Later this month, severance payments for the 26 MLAs no longer in the legislature following the 2020 election are set to run out.
Members who complete their term of office are automatically eligible for transitional assistance — the base MLA salary of $111,024 — for four months following an election. The ex-lawmakers were automatically looped into the program as of voting day.
Seven NDP MLAs and seven Liberal MLAs did not run again in the 2020 election, nor did Independent MLAs Andrew Weaver and Darryl Plecas. When the final ballots were counted, another ten Liberal incumbents lost their seats.
All told, four months of transition assistance for the 26 outgoing legislators adds up to a taxpayer tab of $925,201 — not including benefits. (Cabinet ministers or MLAs who served in additional legislative roles don’t get a severance boost, like they do with pensions).
Further funds available to help ex-members keep their pay grade
Outgoing MLAs who don’t pick up a plum new job are also eligible for extended financial support.
Depending on their post-politics earnings, ex-members can keep picking up another 11 months of their former base salary — up to 15 months in total.
The legislature will pick up the full tab for those who don’t score a new gig, or the difference between their new salary or pension, to ensure their earnings remain at the lawmaker level until January 2021 (although ex-MLAs can opt out, if they choose). There is also a $9,000 job retraining allowance available.
Between election day and the end of last year, MLAs continued to receive constituency office funds and living allowances for their Victoria-region housing, as well as reimbursement for “one final trip between Victoria and their constituency to clean out their Victoria office and/or accommodation.”
Neither the NDP or Liberal Party confirmed whether or not their exiting MLAs would be taking the payments.
Criticism and transparency
The generous transitional assistance program has drawn criticism from spending watchdogs and ex-MLAs alike.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called the program “outrageous,” noting private sector workers rarely have access to similar assistance when they retire or are fired.
Former Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff received transitional assistance payments for “four or five months” after retiring from politics in 2017 but told Glacier Media he believed most of the MLAs who left office that year received the full 15 months of transitional assistance.
While the total amount of transition allowance paid out by the legislative assembly is reported, when applicable, as part of the assembly’s audited financial statements, determining which former members received transitional assistance and how much money they received has been impossible. In 1996, MLAs voted to keep transitional assistance and pension payments exempt from freedom of information laws.
But that is about to change. In November 2019, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee voted to require quarterly reporting on transitional assistance payments beginning after the next election.
Ex-MLAs receiving transitional assistance will get an opportunity to view the quarterly reports before they are publicly posted on the legislative assembly’s website.
The first quarterly reports are expected to be released in March, as part of the legislative assembly’s third quarter disclosures for 2020.