CUPE BC President Mark Hancock recently responded to an opinion piece by Black Press reporter/columnist Tom Fletcher. Our response, which has been published in a number of local BC papers, is below.
Recently you ran a column by Tom Fletcher suggesting that the Canadian Union of Public Employees was running city halls in British Columbia.
Mr. Fletcher’s column was based on a shoddy report done by the provincial government about pay for municipal employees. Both Mr. Fletcher’s column and the provincial report shared something in common. Despite the fact the report focussed on local governments neither Mr. Fletcher nor the authors of the report bothered to talk to local government representatives.
And this is not surprising, because Mr. Fletcher and others are dealing with a solution in search of a problem. The solution is to force a provincial-government controlled bargaining model on locally-elected city councils. The problem – well that’s what Mr. Fletcher and others are working on creating.
If Mr. Fletcher had spoken to Rona Martin, president of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), or even read the UBCM statement, he would have found that the provincial report acknowledges 26 times there are limitations in the data to support analysis of municipal pay. The report goes on to reach grand conclusions anyway. Ms. Martin also notes that compensation for police and fire fighters, and even BC Ferries and TransLink, is lumped in – even though local governments have no control over compensation for these groups.
Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray echoed the UBCM concerns and noted flawed data from what he called “some taxpayer groups” like the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
It is true that the cost of local government has gone up. Andy Shadrack, a Director for the Regional District of Central Kootenay said that he had spent the last nine years “trying to prevent provincial and federal governments from implementing more and more expensive regulations, rules and required services for local government to provide.”
The bill for this downloading of costs by senior government onto local governments has been huge according to a recent report from the B.C.-based Columbia Institute. Between 2001 and 2010 local spending on sewer services went up by 173%, on policing by 134%, and on water services by 130%. All of these increases were driven either by provincial or federal regulations or provincial control.
Finally, let’s look at Mr. Fletcher’s key target – CUPE’s wage settlements – the only actual cost he identifies. Over the last decade CUPE’s wage settlements with local governments have tended to mirror settlements negotiated in the private sector. If you check with BC’s statistics agency, you will find both CUPE and private sector agreements have been lower than the growth in the province’s wealth (the provincial Gross Domestic Product) and lower than the increase in average weekly wages for the province as a whole.
As Derek Corrigan, Mayor of Burnaby, described by Maclean’s Magazine as Canada’s best run city put it, “I’ll put the fiscal responsibility of our cities against the provincial government any day of the week.”
It would have been helpful if the authors of the provincial government report had actually talked to local governments and examined any of these issues. As a journalist, it would have been responsible for Mr. Fletcher to do the same. Instead, his column serves as a free plug for the Christy Clark government’s ham-fisted solution in search of a non-existent problem.
Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BC, representing 85,000 workers in communities across BC.