Two candidates running for city council say a pay increase for councillors may inspire more young, diverse people to run, even if the timing wasn't quite right.
On Aug. 26, Regina city council approved a pay increase of 26 per cent over three years for future councillors. The motion passed eight to three, with Mayor Michael Fougere voting against. Fougere said the coronavirus is creating economic uncertainty.
"I think this is a wrong time to have that conversation," Fougere told The Morning Edition on Aug. 27. "I just think it sends the wrong message that the priority of discussion should be elsewhere and not on salaries."
Fougere said councillors have historically not worked full-time, but conceded the amount of work being done now is more complex than before. However, Fougere said it shouldn't be about the money.
"Being in council is a calling, not a career," he said.
The pay increase will boost the mayor's salary by around five per cent to $151,015 in 2023. His base salary was $144,278 in 2019. Councillors will be paid $57,660 in 2023, compared to $44,507 in 2019.
The report tabled before city council showed that councillors put in full-time or more than full-time hours in their jobs and that a review hadn't been done since 2001. Comparably, city councillors in Saskatoon are paid about $66,000 a year.
Shobna Radons is running for the Ward 7 seat, a position currently held by Councillor Sharron Bryce. Radons works at Canada Post and was formerly in the military. She is originally from Guyana and has two children.
Radons announced she was running Aug. 6, before the pay increase was approved.
"When I first saw the report, I really was a little bit surprised. And I kind of thought why would we be taking a pay increase currently coming out of a COVID pandemic?" Radons said. "We're in an economic downtown downturn currently. And so why would we even consider a pay raise at this time?"
Some city councillors said the increase may help younger, more diverse people run for city council.
Radons said the timing isn't right, but that it's a good justification. She said the current council does not have enough diversity and the pay increase could help more working class people afford to hold the four-year position.
She said the current crop of councillors are good people, but are not representative of Regina's population.
"If you look at our country as a whole, and even in every community in this country, it's changed. The demographics have changed," Radons said. "We do need that representation. We need more diversity."
Fougere said he didn't know if the issue of diversity is driving the pay increase. He said there's an element of truth that more pay compensation may lead to a more diverse council, but that it's not the sole reason for the increase.
He said being on council is a choice and many employers will allow them time to do their duties as a councillor. He acknowledged that diversity on council is important, but questioned whether the pay increase would have a meaningful effect in that regard.
"Even with the salary increase, you may still not have more diversity because of commitments they have, the size of the family and other obligations that they have. They may choose not to be a councillor in any case," Fougere said. "It's not the silver bullet that's going to solve every problem and make an absolutely diverse council."
Shanon Zachidniak, who is running for city council in Ward 8 where councillor Mike O'Donnell is retiring, agreed it's a tough time to talk about the pay increase. She announced she was running July 6, before the pay increase was voted in.
"My hope is that this change allows for council to be a better representation of the diversity that is Regina. If that occurs as a result of this decision, then that would be a positive outcome for our community," Zachidniak said.
Zachidniak said there's a lot of space for improvement in both representation of women on council and reflecting the diversity of backgrounds in Regina. She said knowing the pay she'd receive if she won made the decision to run difficult.
"I do believe it is a barrier for some folks," she said. "I have heard that from others who considered it in the past and decided not to do it."
Zachidniak said it may be too late for many people to jump into the 2020 election race, but hopes more young, diverse people will enter in 2024.
The City of Regina nomination period is from Sept. 22 to Oct. 7. The election is set for Nov. 9.