By Murray Mandryk
For most of us, it’s an easy and simple solution to ask Saskatchewan public servants to do their part to tackle the province’s billion-dollar deficit.
But for Premier Brad Wall, it’s also a problem of his own making.
Consider the wages at SaskPower.
According to the 2015-16 Crown Payee Disclosure, the detailed spending at our publicly own Crown corporations including wages, 1,797 of 3,777 SaskPower employees were earning more than $100,000 a year. Total payroll was $344.8 million in 2015-16, so the average wage was $91,289 a year.
Just a decade or so earlier in 2004, there were only 164 SaskPower employees earning six figures a year, an average of $73,509 per year. So in about a decade, SaskPower payroll has nearly doubled and the average SaskPower wage has increased 24 per cent.
Of course, most of it occurred under the Wall’s watch.
And it can be argued that SaskPower employees haven’t done nearly as well as other public servants like Saskatchewan’s registered nurses.
Notwithstanding the Sask. Party’s introduction of its Essential Services legislation (later struck down by the Supreme Court of (Canada) in 2008,) the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) were greeted by 36-plus-per cent wage increase over the next four years from the newly elected Wall government.
Nurses contracts since have been more in line with the two- or three-per-cent annual wage increases of SaskPower employees.
But you are getting the picture.
The last budget of the NDP government in 2006-07 had operating expenses of $7.7 billion, about $3.7 billion more than when the NDP took power 16 years earlier.
However, according to the mid-year update for the 2016-17 budget, government spending in a decade has doubled a $7-billion increase in government spending to $14.7-billion.
The political issue isn’t so much that employee wages make up 60 per cent of government spending, as Wall correctly observed in a series of year-end interviews with reporters.
The issue is that it was Wall’s government has been a fully responsible for wages and government spending increasing even more rapidly in the past nine years than they were increasing under the previous administration.
“I hope there’s goodwill and good faith on the part of provider unions and managers and people that work in the public service to realize that even what’s being paid right now might not be sustainable,” Wall told The Canadian Press.
At some point, I think we have to determine in the long-term interest of the province, do we engage in layoffs or rollbacks.
That doesn’t always happen in government. Maybe we need to have that conversation and see if we can avoid what might be dramatic layoffs.
This is likely true. But can Brad Wall make the argument, in good faith, when it was his government negotiating these huge wage increases in the past decade?
In the case of the 2008 36-plus per-cent increase given to the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, it was deemed an unnecessary move even at the time.
Moreover, Wall has been even more generous in the wage increases he has paid to individuals on his own staff in the past decade, many of who seen fantastic increases in pay for nothing more than a change in job title.
And then there is the little matter of Wall increasing the legislative assembly by three more MLAs.
Credit Wall for acknowledging that he knows this move will be unpopular.
“I’m not prepared to sort of kick this can down the road like provinces used to do in the 80s or even like some are doing today,: he said.
But if layoffs or wage cuts are now necessary, they have been made necessary by the Wall own decisions.