A question over South Dundas council remuneration at its June 13 council meeting underlines a problem in our municipal electoral system – attracting new citizens to run for office. This problem is not limited to South Dundas, but to all municipalities in Canada, and deserves consideration.
Deciding how much an elected official is worth is no joking matter. South Dundas’ elected council members are the lowest paid in SDG Counties. A councillor receives less than $14,000, the deputy mayor is paid just over $17,000, and the mayor is paid less than $28,000 a year. None of the elected positions are full time jobs. However consider that with council meetings, committees, and talking with residents, this is part time job that can easily take a good part of a person’s day up. Adding to this is that an elected official in 2022 really has no down time – there is no off switch. Elected officials will have residents talking to them in the grocery store, at the post office, at the gas station, or even in the doctors’ office. There are telephone and digital communication as well.
Granted, an elected official can choose to put as much, or as little, time into the position for which elected, but to do so happens at that official’s peril. Not replying to an email, returning a phone call, or attending a meeting can quickly cause residents to question that person’s value at the next election.
South Dundas council opted to not vote in a pay increase in an election year – a smart and politically savvy move as at least two members of the current council seek re-election this fall. Was it the right move? Not necessarily.
Two members of council, Mayor Steven Byvelds and Councillor Archie Mellan, both suggested a raise for the next term was appropriate. Byvelds said that the workload is greater than it was 10 years ago. Mellan said that a higher remuneration is needed to attract new people to run for office – that only those with financial means are able to afford to run. On both points, The Leader agrees.
Council represents the citizens of the municipality and is elected to do the work for those citizens, all citizens. An elected body should reflect the entire community, not just those who can afford to take time off work to serve. In electing a council every four years, we need diverse backgrounds and experience around the table. Right now, South Dundas’ youngest council member is 51. Most are 60-plus. Age brings experience, but it also brings old thinking and old ways.
The job of an elected official has changed in the past 20 years. At large cities, council member has been a full time job for decades. More-and-more, it is becoming the same for smaller municipalities. Yet, working part time at a fast food restaurant provides more pay than serving as an elected official, and often provides better hours.
It is not popular to suggest that a politician should get a pay raise, and be fairly compensated for the work those people do. But to attract and retain people – the right people – to do the citizens’ work and represent those who live in a municipality, there should be fair financial compensation.