Globe columnist slams Canadian firefighters over high salaries

The Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente has spurred some controversy with a provocative column suggesting that Canada's firefighters make too much money.

Here is an excerpt from the piece, published on Thursday:

Across Canada, towns and cities are getting hosed by the skyrocketing costs of their fire departments. Thanks to arbitration settlements, your firefighters are the best paid (and possibly the most underworked) guys in town. Firefighters have been getting raises that are twice as high what other public sector workers have been getting, at a time when municipalities are strapped for funds and raises are just a memory for most of us.

Working conditions are pretty sweet too. Thanks to modern safety standards, there are very few fires left to fight. These days, most fire department calls are medical. To prove that they’re still needed, fire departments have been adding defibrillators and Jaws of Life, and frantically expanding their repertoires to respond to even minor non-fire emergencies.

According to a recent survey by Workopolis, the average salary of a firefighter in Canada is roughly $65,000 but most earn a lot more.

"Unusual working hours contribute to overtime earnings that can bump firefighters into the $100,000 club," notes the survey published at the Workopolis website.

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"For example, 54 firefighters in the city of Kitchener, Ontario, make more than $100,000."

In Belleville, Ont. there were 53 who made a six figure salary and in Toronto, as explained by Wente — firefighters were just awarded a new contract that gives them a 14 per cent raise over five years.

Yes, firefighters risk their lives to save other lives but do they get paid too much?

Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation agrees with Wente.

"Firefighters unions have run the table in contract negotiations with local government. They now enjoy an arbitration system that provides them with salaries and benefits that Canadians can no longer afford to pay," he told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.

"We shouldn’t just single out firefighters. Across Canada, government employees enjoy far richer salary and benefit packages than the rest of us who do similar jobs. Government lifeguards, custodians and cafeteria workers get more than people doing the same jobs outside of government.

"The longer we allow this to continue, the longer governments continue to roll up multi-billion dollar debts and deficits to pay for it all. Unless we get a handle on this soon, it’s going to end in an ugly way."

Twitter reaction to Wente's column: