3 backbench PC MLAs in line for $12,500 salary top-up

Most Canadian provincial legislatures have one or two deputy Speakers. Nova Scotia will soon have five under a plan from Premier Tim Houston.  (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
Most Canadian provincial legislatures have one or two deputy Speakers. Nova Scotia will soon have five under a plan from Premier Tim Houston. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservatives used their majority in the House to pass a government resolution Thursday adding three more people to the roster of deputy Speakers, making Province House the legislature with the most deputy Speakers in Canada.

Danielle Barkhouse (Chester-St. Margarets), Kent Smith (Eastern Shore) and Nolan Young (Shelburne) will join existing opposition MLAs Lisa Lachance (Halifax Citadel-Sable Island) and Angela Simmonds (Preston) as deputy Speakers.

The motion passed, but not before government members agreed to an opposition concession: removing Smith as the first in line for the Speaker's job should Keith Bain step down. Simmonds, one of only two Black women in the House, currently has that designation, but the party in power initially wanted Smith to replace her.

New Democrat House leader Susan Leblanc proposed the government delete that part of the motion and the PCs agreed.

Salary top-up approved

Earlier, at a meeting of the House of Assembly's management commission, it took the all-party committee just over 90 seconds to approve a $12,500 salary increase for anyone named deputy Speaker.

That wage top-up will now be paid to five people rather than two.

The move comes just months after an emergency sitting of the Nova Scotia Legislature, which was recalled by Houston for the express purpose of passing a law to nullify a raise for all 55 MLAs that was recommended by an independent commission.

Houston has repeatedly justified denying elected representatives their first raise in almost a decade by pointing to rising costs being shouldered by Nova Scotians.

"We have record-high inflation, we have a number of issues the province is faced with," Houston told reporters on July 19.

"This is not the time to be adjusting the compensation of MLAs."

'It's an inconsistency'

Deputy premier Allan MacMaster acknowledged Thursday the $12,500 increase flew in the face of what happened this summer.

"It's an inconsistency with the MLA wage review last summer, but it is what it is," MacMaster told reporters following the meeting.

Michael Gorman/CBC
Michael Gorman/CBC

As the premier has done this fall, MacMaster defended the move to create a record number of deputy Speakers positions.

"We've seen, on numerous occasions, people who are not designated as deputy Speakers who are stepping into the role," said MacMaster.

"It's important for whoever is in the chair to have some training, have some experience."

MacMaster, who is also the finance minister, said the new deputy Speakers will have to do more to earn their salary increases.

"They have to do work for it, they'll have a function in the legislature and I don't think I can say much more than that."

Opposition critical of splitting salary 5 ways

The government originally wanted the deputy Speaker's salary of $24,523.25 to be split five ways, but the opposition parties objected. That would have meant the two current deputy Speakers — Lachance and Simmonds — would have seen their $12,500 salary top-ups reduced to about $5,000.

The opposition parties expressed concern about how much time Lachance and Simmonds would spend in the Speaker's chair with a total of five deputies. During this sitting, the Liberals slowed down the work of the House to protest the proposed deputy Speaker pay cut.

They agreed to allow the work of the House to proceed at a normal pace after the government assured them their members would not be forced to take a pay cut and that the deputy Speakers would get an equitable share of time in the Speaker's chair.

Michael Gorman/CBC
Michael Gorman/CBC

"I think that both deputy Speakers, from both [opposition] parties, they don't deserve to lose the remuneration," said Liberal House leader Derek Mombourquette, who voted in favour of the salary adjustment. "I think they're doing an excellent job."

Mombourquette said his party didn't see the need for three more deputies.

"I don't understand the rationale of five deputy Speakers," he said. "It's not done in the House of Commons, let alone any of the other provinces that are much larger than us but also sit more than us."

Sitting Days in Provincial and Territorial Legislatures

Between 2016 and 2021, the Nova Scotia Legislature sat between 14 days and 48 days a year. The average over those six years was 37 days. That's on par with the average, for the same period of time, for the Nunavut Legislative Assembly but every other provincial legislature sat longer. Every one of them makes due with a single deputy Speaker or two.

An analysis by the Nova Scotia Legislative Library from 1999 to 2021 shows the Nova Scotia Legislature sat an average of 50 days per year, compared to 84 in Ontario.

Michael Gorman/CBC
Michael Gorman/CBC

Leblanc said her party also opposed adding three more deputies to the roster but agreed to the salary adjustment.

"We do value the fact MLA Lachance is a deputy Speaker and in this trade-off, we want to make sure that their position is protected," she said.

MLAs earn a base salary of $89,234.90. Cabinet ministers get an additional $49,046.51, as does the Speaker. The premier earns $112,791.20 more. Opposition party leaders get a $24,523.25 top-up.