Budget

The Saskatchewan Government: Making Kellyanne Conway Blush

Recently a SaskParty Cabinet Minister – a really, really lovely person who I truly like – said to me, “You know, you could write something nice once in a while.”

I want to. I really do.

But after the SaskParty’s absolutely absurd behavior this week – and outright attempts to mislead us, it won’t be happening today.

On Tuesday, Premier Brad Wall announced that all Saskatchewan MLAs would be taking a 3.5 per cent pay cut, and the government expected the public service sector to do the same.

Seems a bit rich coming from the same government that increased the number of MLAs from 58 to 61, or by 5 per cent, less than a year ago, but whatever.

In order to make the pay cut official, the Board of Internal Economy (BIE) had to meet, and was scheduled for 8am Wednesday morning. The BIE is one of the few places where the SaskParty government cannot move forward on decisions without the NDP present.

The NDP didn’t show up to the BIE pay cut meeting. They said they felt that rubber-stamping the 3.5 per cent increase would mean they’re also endorsing the 3.5 per cent decrease to public service salaries, a condition which Premier Wall made abundantly clear was attached to this decision. Further, they had some additional demands around the budget for paying MLAs and Ministers that they wanted the government to consider.

Whatever. The SaskParty are playing politics with this announcement. The NDP are playing politics with the BIE. The taxpayer rolls their eyes.

So the meeting was supposed to start at 8am. By 9.05am, Economy Minister Jeremy Harrison, who is one of the government members on the BIE, was on the John Gormley Live Show, positively beside himself with righteous indignation.

In the United States, fact-checking has become a daily grind in most newsrooms. I mean, the media has always been about fact-checking, but historically they could be fairly confident that the statements coming out of the White House were accurate.

Not so much anymore.

(I know, I know, I’m just part of the dishonest media blah blah. Save your comments, my alt-right friends, I’m not approving them. Or giving a shit.)

Today, I think the SaskParty government is desperately in need of some fact-checking, because what they’re spinning is, at the very best, “alternative facts”.

So I’m going to take you, sentence by sentence (transcribed from the podcast here), through what Harrison – again, the Minister of Saskatchewan’s Economy – said to Gormley this morning, and counter it with some facts of my own.

First, Harrison got into why the meeting was called.

“The purpose of the meeting was to put in place the provision to reduce MLA and Ministers salaries by 3.5 per cent but clearly the NDP don’t agree with that…they won’t put their money where their mouth is and take the pay cut themselves.”

Yesterday, immediately after Brad Wall made his announcement on salaries, NDP Opposition leader Trent Wotherspoon followed up with reporters. You can watch the video here.

“Will you take a 3.5 per cent wage cut?” was the first question to Wotherspoon, asked by the seriously smart and fabulous Stefani Langenegger from CBC Saskatchewan.

“Yes.”

Seems pretty clear to me, but I guess Harrison must have misunderstood that single syllable, because here was his next statement to Gormley:

“Mr Wotherspoon said yesterday that perhaps they’d take a look at this, well clearly they’re not….they refuse to take the reduction in pay that all of us are taking.”

Funny how he knew Mr. Wotherspoon said a thing the day before, yet on a live newstalk (emphasis on “news”, which typically means telling the truth, right?) radio show, managed to suggest Wotherspoon said a thing completely different.

Harrison went on in this vein for a few more sentences, then, lest we were all confused about his mighty powers, announced defiantly:

“I’ll tell you John, this is going to happen. There is going to be a reduction of 3.5 per cent…whether the NDP show up at the meeting or not, this is going to happen.”

as god is my witness

Despite saying, literally thirty seconds earlier, that the NDP didn’t show up at the Very Important Meeting because they’re not willing to take the pay cut, Harrison goes on to admit he knew the real reason all along.

“They called for Ministers to take a 20 per cent larger reduction…under our plan Ministers are already taking a 49 per cent larger reduction than MLAs.”

Hmm.

The NDP want SaskParty Cabinet Ministers to take an extra 20 per cent cut in salary, which Harrison scoffs at, as Ministers will already be sacrificing 49 per cent?

More on that in a minute.

Harrison continued:

“In addition we have a smaller cabinet and we’ve reduced ministerial travel by 70 per cent in real dollars from the time the NDP were in government.”

Real dollars? Not fake ones?

Despite the various shuffles and amalgamations, today’s Cabinet is the exact same size as it was in 2006-07.

As for travel, score one for Harrison there. In 2006-07, Ministerial travel totaled a whopping $1 006 686. In 2015-16 that number was $358 889, for a reduction of 65 per cent.

And so it should be.

I would hope that the advent of Skype, teleconferencing, smartphones etc would on it’s own have significantly reduced the need to travel for meetings, whether to North Battleford or New Zealand.

But still, $1 million on travel was bananas.

“We have very significantly cut Ministerial costs already..”

In 2008-09, the SaskParty’s first full fiscal year, Ministers earned $43 000 per annum, and there were 16 Ministries, for a total of $694 000.

In 2015-16, the number of Ministries was reduced to 13, due to:

  • the amalgamation of the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation into the Ministry of Economy;
  • the Ministry of Justice absorbing the Ministry of Corrections;
  • the dissolution of the Ministry of First Nations and Metis Relations (seriously).

Ministers earned $48 000 per annum in 2015-16, which should bring the total cost of their salaries down to $624 000.

Except it doesn’t, because upon amalgamation of Economy and Justice, the government doubled the Ministerial salary expenditure* for those two Ministries, appointing two Ministers for each. The salary expenditure has also gone up in other Ministers which pay out two Ministers, such as Health.

Further, while the size of the Ministry of Finance didn’t increase in size, the Finance Minister’s salary did, to $55 000.

This brings Ministerial salary costs for 2015-16 up to $775 000, or 12 per cent higher than 2008. It’s not crazy or anything, but it’s not “significantly cut”, either.

But my personal favorite quote from Harrison from this interview came next, when he repeated the charge that the NDP’s demand that Cabinet Ministers shave 20 per cent (as opposed to 3.5) off their salaries was positively ludicrous, because Cabinet Ministers would already suffer a

“49 per cent larger reduction under (the proposed 3.5 per cent reduction) plan than MLAs.”

Soooooo, Ministerial salaries are being cut in half?

Not quite.

Here’s Harrison’s math:

“Well, MLAs are taking 3.5 per cent reduction on their base pay – which is about $3300.”

Indeed – 3.5 per cent of an MLAs current annual salary of $94 668 is $3300.

“Ministers are taking another 3.5 per cent on their Ministerial pay, which is another $1700.”

Yep – 3.5 per cent of a Minister’s annual add-on salary of $48 000 is $1700.

“So Ministers are taking a $5100 pay reduction while MLAs are taking $3400, so it’s about a 49 per cent larger reduction per pay for Ministers.”

Hang on hang on hang on… let me get this straight.

A plain old MLA’s salary is going to go from $94 688 to $91 388 – down by 3.5 per cent.

A Cabinet Minister’s salary is going to go from $142 688 ($94688 MLA salary + $48000 Minister salary) to $137 588 – also down 3.5 per cent.

Yet the Minister of the ECONOMY is claiming that his fellow Ministers are somehow martyrs, because $5100 is 49 per cent more than $3400?!

Pardon me for a moment.

(Baaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaa

*deep breath*

BaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahahahhahahaHAHAHA)

Back*.

Honest to god, I was originally going to call this blog dotheythinkwerestupid.ca.

It’s days like these that I regret not doing so.

Even Gormley called Harrison on that bullshit math, pointing out the Ministers’ higher salary.

“Right but the point that I think the NDP were getting at is the Ministers should take a larger reduction and that’s exactly what’s happening on our plan.”

That is simply, categorically, false.

It’s like the CEO of a company telling his employees that he is suffering more than they are, because he’s taking $1 million dollars off his $10 million salary, and they’re only taking $5000 off their $50 000 salary.

In Saskatchewan, Ministers and MLAs are taking a 3.5 per cent reduction in salaries.

Period.

I can’t believe I have to explain this, but what the NDP are asking is that SaskParty Cabinet Ministers reduce their $48 000 Ministerial salary by 20 per cent, or by $9600, as opposed to reducing it by 3.5 per cent, which is $1700.

Maybe I shouldn’t be anymore, but I was stunned when, despite the utter absurdity of Harrison’s 49 per cent more jibberish statement, the Premier himself repeated it, verbatim, in Wednesday’s Question Period.

I’m so over this.

If you hear this 49 per cent more crap trotted out again, just know that the government is using it to mislead you, because they believe you’re stupid enough to believe it.

And if all this wasn’t enough, Harrison closed off his interview with one more hell of a con.

“We’re leading by example. That’s what the Premier is doing personally as well, by no longer taking a stipend from the party.”

Somewhere out there, Kellyanne Conway wiped away a single tear.

Are you f**king serious Harrison?

Are you seriously trying to tell Saskatchewan people that the Premier dumped his SaskParty salary top-up, funded entirely by political donors, as some sort of demonstration of austerity and solidarity with public service, in tough economic times?

What, is the SaskParty going to donate that $50 000 to the General Revenue Fund now?

Not even the Premier is trying to shovel that kind of manure.

“To the extent that there is any misunderstanding or misperception of what (the donor-funded top-up) is, I just think it is not worth it,” he said on Monday.

Maybe they do think we’re stupid, because apparently the Premier of Saskatchewan thinks we’re too dense to comprehend, or we’re “misunderstanding” the totally-above-board-kosherness of being paid by both the people who elected you to represent their best interests, and the political donors paying you to do the same for theirs.

“I have a very hard time believing they’re doing anything but posturing politically,” said Harrison about the NDP, wrapping up this dumpster fire of a radio interview.

I have a very hard time believing that this is real life.

For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Email me anytime at tammyrobert@live.ca

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*(March 9, 2017, 9:57am Edited – in an earlier version of this post, I said that Gord Wyant and Jeremy Harrison were each receiving a $96000 Ministerial top up. They aren’t.)

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11 replies »

  1. It’s interesting how when Government amalgamates ministries, it costs more money, yet they expect to find significant savings when amalgamating health districts and education districts. As a teacher, I’m frustrated beyond belief with their hypocrisy, pseudo-arguments, shell games, and blaming the public sector and organized labour for increased costs.

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  2. “A 3.5 per cent reduction on that $7.35 billion would amount to roughly $257 million — no small chump change, but a mere one-fifth of the current $1.2-billion 2016-17 deficit (which may or may not include $132 million the Sask. Party government just spent through cabinet special warrant).

    Ironically, that quarter-million dollars is about equivalent to the extra revenue you would get by raising the PST to six per cent. And less than what we could raise if we just eliminated tax exemptions on farm fuel ($120 million), fertilizers, pesticides and seed ($163 million).” Mandryk column. LP Friday March 10

    Hey Tammy, How about a column on rich farmers getting special treatment by not paying their fair share for input costs such as fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and seed? Farmers have done better financially in the last ten years than any other group.

    Also Mandryk never misses a chance to mention the 36% 2008 wage increase to nurses, which was a fix with SUN and a number of government Ministers whose wives are nurses. Do the the long term math (amortization costs of that increase) on the provincial health budget? Enormous.

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  3. The Conway reference is sadly appropriate as the Sask Party supporters are quickly starting to act and sound more and more like Trump supporters. It’s sad and scary, especially since the Sask Party seems to be encouragig this behaviour with regular dog whistles on their social Media feeds. I’ve already seen people bashing the NDP for not take my pay cuts while the noble SP members like Wall are taking 50% cuts. When corrected, they lash out with ad hominem attacks and cries of “fake news”.

    I feel equally saddened by my our media who would much rather obsessively focus on the party brinkmanship than actually do much digging into this issue. For example, LPs own Murray Mandryk often has an incredible political memory and yet not once had mentioned SPs record of public service cut backs and freezes. This was the party that came into office on the 4×4 plan. Remember? A promise, which they kept, to cut the size of public service in sask 4% a year for 4 years. Then came Lean which was not intended to cut jobs, but make no mistake, some jobs were lost. Then with every deficit (ie. the majority of years SP had in office) has resulted in wage freezes, hiring freezes, vacancy management, etc. I’ve worked a public sector job for many years and I can’t remember a single time under this current government that we haven’t been in some state of concern about budgets. And the more we bust our ass to find cuts and pick up workloads of people who leave, the more we keep getting beaten down for our efforts. The more the deficits have seemed to increase.

    As a public employee, there has been no “good times” or boom times. Those things passed us by for the most part. We’ve been in a seemingly constant state of worry and concerns because of constant deficits and cuts. And now that the deficits have gotten worse yet again, we are now being made the target. Please just forget or ignore the past 10 years of cuts we’ve taken in order to do or best to keep happy a party and their supporters who, clearly are never going to be happy no matter how hard I work. I’m always going to be the enemy. Busting my ass only to listen as people make jokes to my face about being lazy and greedy and good for nothing.

    I’ve worked in the private and public sectors and ive seen zero evidence that one group of people workers harder than the other. I’m proud to say my current coworkers are some of the best, hardest working people I’ve ever met. yes, they are public sector employees AND union. GASP! How can that be? It’s true and they all deserve far better than what they currently get from the government and its supporters right now. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them left government to do ththe exact same job for far more money elsewhere. And it would be a loss of knowledge and experience that would be difficult to replace.

    What is also troubling to me is not the talk about cutting wages or extra days off without pay. It’s the precedent this sets. We currently have a government who doesn’t like union or government workers much, who thinks deficits are a reason to cut both those things and yet who manages to run deficits almost every year they are in power. Explain that to me. If the public service does “the right thing” according to the SP and it’s supporters, then how far does it go? Are public sector workers supposed to keep cutting and taking unpaid days off every year? Because clearly the deficits aren’t going away any time soon. Even when times were good, there has been deficits most years. And most public sector employees will tell you they didn’t get any bonuses or raises during the boom times everyone else supposedly experienced. So we take a hit when budgets go south. It see no benefit when budgets are good? We get cuts no matter what and yet still get
    Blamed when the deficits keep increasing? Would be nice if the media would inform people of this realty rather than the game between political parties.

    Or how about the fact that if people are getting laid off, such as in the resource sectors, it is due to supply and demand. It sucks but it happens. Has demand for government services gone down? Up? Does anyone know or care? I know we keep having to do more and more with less. To the point I don’t think anymore can really be cut which is why wages are the new target. But i would argue that when economies slow down, then demand for government services actually increases. And if that is true, why would people be crying for cuts because “the budget” or “we had to take cuts so you should to?” Really? Is that the level of logic that now passed as “common sense” in this province? Shameful. Shame.

    And finally I leave with one last question I hope people will think about. This talk about cutting wages and firing people and forced unpaid days off…what is the impact on the economy and future budgets? I pay taxes. I buy stuff. Taking a cut in pay means I pay less taxes and buy less stuff. Less taxes and economic activity typically tends to slow economies and reduce government revenue, not increase it. How realistic is this plan and honestly, what are the chances it will work when A bunch more people are experiencing reduced wages and paying less taxes and spending less in the provinces economy?

    It is sad and embarrassing these days to heat people talk, especially when one sees the words coming from SP supporters. It is very Trump supporter like. So again, the Conway reference is fitting. But some effort needs to be made by the media to remind people that public sector workers haven’t been living high on the horse all this time others have been struggling. Cuts have been made and everyone is working far harder to do more with less. And when I see the people around me working as hard as they do, only to be demoralized and attacked and treated like an enemy of the province? It’s sad and shameful. They deserve better. Social workers dealing with already unmanageable case loads deserve better. Over worked hospital staff deserve better.

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  4. How about every employed person in the province takes 3 1/2% of their salary and donates it to the budget of the government of Sk? Then I won’t feel so bad about donating 3.5% of my salary as a public service employee?

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  5. Hi Tammy,

    Love the blog, you do a great justice to the taxpayer by providing these points of view. I for the most party would say I’m a SP supporter before I’d claim to be an NDP supporter. However, I have to ask you, how out to lunch is the NDP on their QP strategy is these days?

    The GTH is no doubt a massive joke in how it was handled, but simply isn’t resonating with the voting public as an mainstream issue compared to the economy, wage roll back, attacks on the civil service and job cuts. Why is the NDP not focusing on the bigger water cooler issues to try and gain further support and better sound clips and media attention than focusing on their previous talking points?

    The NDP needs some serious strategic help.

    Like

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