Remember two years ago when B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Peter Fassbender took on the B.C. Teachers’ Federation?
The province weathered its longest-ever public school strike, five weeks of full-scale shutdown from disrupted graduation to cancelled fall classes, with the B.C. government dividing up the salary savings and sending cheques to thousands of parents.
The province’s most militant union was wrestled to the ground, its strike fund exhausted, and the BCTF signed a five-year agreement with economic growth sharing similar to all the other provincial government unions. Then Premier Christy Clark assigned Fassbender a new job: do the same thing with municipalities.
It started last year, when a provincially commissioned study on municipal wages was leaked just as mayors and councillors from around the province gathered in Whistler for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.
The study showed that municipal staff wage increases had been running at about twice the rate of provincial wage settlements, as the province came out of a recession-driven wage freeze and into a period of slow economic growth.
NDP leader John Horgan and the Canadian Union of Public Employees dismissed the study as full of holes, partly because left-leaning cities refused to supply the data. It seems some municipalities, particularly in Metro Vancouver, are not keen to have Big Brother get involved in their contract negotiations.
At this year’s UBCM convention in Victoria, Fassbender let it be known in his closing speech that a review of municipal compensation is underway. That means not only CUPE agreements, but executive pay and even the rich arbitrated settlements handed out to municipal police and firefighters.
Just before Fassbender’s speech, local government leaders debated a resolution dealing with the province’s last effort to help them run their affairs, the Auditor General for Local Government. The upshot of that was similar to last year: Dear Minister Fassbender, put this thing where the sun don’t shine.
So this will be one of the showdown issues in the next provincial election: strong fiscal discipline versus meddling in the affairs of local governments.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press.