The Citizen Task Force on Elected Officials’ Remuneration has recommended that Sturgeon County should give its councillors a 36 per cent raise “to make sure it draws high-quality candidates for leadership”. This statement easily leads to the conclusion that Sturgeon County, in the past, has “not drawn high-quality candidates for leadership”, a conclusion I would not necessarily support. I see two overall problems with this statement:
1. If poor quality candidates are drawn to run for a councillor’s position, how many more will be drawn when you begin offering a 36 per cent higher salary? If people are drawn to run for local office because of the attraction of money, the more money you offer, logically, the more low-quality candidates will appear.
2. My second concern is that, when it comes to local elections, people seldom run for money or power. Yes, occasionally you may have one or two that are motivated by these reasons, but the vast majority of people who seek local office are determined to run because they want to work for their local community, or they want to work for a specific cause. The salary they are going to be paid seldom ever becomes a point of discussion, let alone a point of enticement.
Even when we consider national offices, for example the president of the United States earns $400,000 a year, plus an expense account of $50,000, a $100,000 non-taxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment, while these numbers look attractive to some, most of the candidates running for the 2020 U.S. presidential election already earn far higher numbers. Indeed, most presidents have chosen to donate their salaries to charity (including Donald Trump, the current president). If money was the incentive, why would people spend millions of dollars of their own funds to capture a job that pays them far less than what they already earn, and then turn around and give away all their compensation?
Paying more money will not attract better quality candidates, in fact, the opposite just might be true. Lowering payments will likely chase away candidates that are “in it only for the money”, leaving only those individuals that really want to improve their community or push for a cause.
I wish the Citizen Task Force on Elected Officials’ Remuneration could have been honest with us and explained that the statement “to make sure it draws high-quality candidates for leadership” was simply inserted to deflect criticism from the public, criticism that is to be expected when offering a 36 per cent pay increase to some, while the majority of Albertans are receiving no increases, or are already unemployed.
If one wants to improve the quality of candidates, then it’s probably time to consider some requirements for candidacy. A standard for educational achievement, military service, previously held offices, minimum number of sponsors, landowner, years living in the community – there are dozens of standards that could be imposed to eliminate “lesser-qualified” candidates.
Personally, I don’t like these standards, as I think democracy requires that any adult is free to seek office. Besides, many of the wisest people I’ve met in my life were very poor, and poorly educated, but they were honest, smart, loved their families, loved their country, and would have had my vote in an instant.
Brian McLeod is a St. Albert resident.