In the month between her last day with a cabinet portfolio and the day she's likely to become House Speaker, Karla MacFarlane will be paid thousands of dollars above the salary she's entitled to as a Nova Scotia MLA.
Premier Tim Houston said it's justifiable because of the work she's doing to usher in her cabinet successor, but opposition members said it's simply a favour to a friend, and the province's public sector unions called it a snub to workers.
MacFarlane was minister of Community Services until Houston shuffled his cabinet on Sept. 14, handing the department to cabinet newcomer Trevor Boudreau. On the same day, the premier announced he would nominate MacFarlane to be Speaker of the House when the legislature reconvenes on Oct. 12.
Typically, those circumstances would mean a temporary drop in salary. MLAs in Nova Scotia make $89,234 annually, while cabinet ministers and the speaker make $138,281. Houston took the unusual step of allowing MacFarlane to continue earning the higher salary after being shuffled out of cabinet.
The difference in gross pay for one month is $4,087.20.
A transition period
"It's a transition period," Houston told reporters Thursday.
"I determined it was helpful to have that succession planning, have Minister McFarlane there working with Minister Boudreau to make sure that there are no delays in getting the programs delivered to Nova Scotians."
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston met with reporters Thursday following a cabinet meeting in Halifax. (CBC)
Much of the work done by the Department of Community Services is for Nova Scotians who are living in poverty and experiencing homelessness. Houston said it's a critical time for those services, with fall setting in and winter on its heels.
"It might not be the normal practice or the standard practice of government, but that's not to say that it maybe shouldn't be," he said.
Houston added that he often hears people complain about programs stalling during the handover between elected officials.
'Good to their friends'
Liberal MLA Kelly Regan said she found it "interesting" that MacFarlane would be getting paid extra while other Nova Scotians struggle to make ends meet.
Liberal MLA Kelly Regan says bureaucrats can handle the transition to a new minister without help from the outgoing minister. (CBC)
Regan was minister of Community Services under the previous Liberal government.
"It is a large and complicated department," she said.
"[But] I have faith in the civil servants that they can actually brief an incoming minister appropriately. It's very unusual, but with this government, they're good to their friends."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender echoed the accusation of the premier doing a friendly favour.
"This is a premier who rewards the people who are loyal to him inside and outside of government, and punishes the ones that aren't. And Karla has been a very loyal member of his caucus and now his government, and I think it's a reward for her."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender says the premier is rewarding MacFarlane for loyalty. (Michael Gorman/CBC)
Unions cry foul
In a news release issued Thursday, three public unions — Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Unifor — said the salary issue shows that "low-wage workers don't matter" to the premier.
The unions said MacFarlane's month of elevated pay is unfair given that health care administrative professionals haven't received a pay raise since 2019. According to the unions, those professionals start at $18 an hour.
"This sends a clear message to our members: the Premier's friends are the priority, not the administrative professionals who help keep our health care system running," said Susan Gill, Unifor's national representative.
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