Premier Robert Ghiz reads a copy of the 2014 budget.
©Guardian file photo by Brian McInnis
The P.E.I. government is undergoing a review of salaries and pension benefits paid to deputy ministers.
Premier Robert Ghiz says the salary levels of P.E.I.’s deputy ministers are the lowest in the region.
“I would say our deputy ministers in Atlantic Canada are probably underpaid by about $50,000 compared to all the other regions,” Ghiz said during the recent sitting of the legislature, adding New Brunswick and Nova Scotia offer higher pay than P.E.I.
This makes it difficult to attract and retain well-educated professionals qualified to run whole government departments and provide policy advice to cabinet.
“Accountants, lawyers, doctors – if you’re good at those professions you’re making, I don’t know, at least one and half, maybe two, three, four times what a deputy minister makes. If you want to attract them in, it gets difficult,” Ghiz said in the legislature May 9.
Independent PC MLA Olive Crane points out deputy ministers make a generous salary of over $100,000 a year.
But it’s the added perk of getting two pension years for every one year of work that Crane believes is over the top.
“When you think of somebody that’s out there in the general public that works and gets no pension… and even those lucky enough to get a pension usually earn one year,” Crane said.
“That is what my concern is and I’ve been raising this for a long time.”
Deputy ministers are appointed by the premier and their salaries range from between $122,000 and $148,000.
The province’s Senior Compensation Plan provides them a pension supplementary to benefits provided by the regular civil service pension fund. Benefits for the Senior Compensation Plan are based on the number of years they’ve been a deputy to a maximum of five years, multiplied by two per cent of their best three years’ average salary.
The plan is unfunded, which means government covers all premiums and deputies do not have to pay into it.
The province is also responsible for any unfunded liability in this plan and makes payments from its operating fund as they become due, according to the 2012-13 audited public accounts report.
Crane said she understands it may be difficult to attract qualified individuals if other provinces offer higher salaries, but says a double pension may be a little too generous.
“I really think in today’s climate, the double pension is just not fair to people.”
When she raised this in the legislature in the spring, Ghiz said he understands her concern and may consider different options as part of the current review.
“You never know, we may get rid of the deputy ministers’ double (pension), then bump (salaries) up by 50 per cent or something like that to help make the difference. But it’s one of those things where if we want to continue to be able to recruit in top level deputies, we’re going to have to look at something.”
Crane said she would not be opposed to seeing a modest salary increase for deputy ministers, so long as it would accompany an elimination of the double pension earnings.
“You work one year and you get two full pension years based on your salary of $130,000? Think about the person that makes $13 or $14 an hour,” Crane said.
“That’s what I have a big issue with.”