A bluff is called and tempers flare




A pay cut, it seems, is a bridge too far for most city councillors.

In the immediate memories of those who witnessed last night's clash over Councillor Jeff Earle's last-minute wage-cutting motion, chances are the fate of the council pay cut he proposed will be overtaken by the larger kerfuffle over his proposed staffing reduction.

But like the motions themselves, it is definitely worth splitting the two.

For starters, here's the context: Jeff Earle is sick and tired of what he considers symbolic motions meant to show councillors' sense of self-sacrifice without achieving much by way of dollar savings.

So he takes Jason Baker's motion to freeze councillors' wages over the next term and essentially tells colleagues: “Well, if you really want to put your money where your mouth is, chew on this instead!”

Earle, it seems, called councillors' bluff by proposing a pay freeze be turned into 10-per-cent pay cut.

At one end of the reaction range was Leigh Bursey's sincere admission that, while he supports actions, such as a pay freeze, that show leadership, he also comes from a less privileged stratum of society and can't afford a cut in the paycheque he needs to cover his rent.

Some will accuse Bursey of flip-flopping by not supporting Earle's measure, but I give the guy points for being straightforward and not sprinkling his decision with sparkling rhetorical barf.

Then there was the reaction illustrated by Councillor Jane Fullarton's equally straightforward response: We councillors do the job we're elected for and deserve the pay we get.

What we didn't get to hear is any voice in support of a pay cut. That's because, the moment Earle's motion was split, the amendment immediately hit the floor to change it from a pay cut to a more palatable one-year pay freeze.

No one – Earle included – challenged that amendment.

Was it because no one but Earle truly wanted to talk about a pay cut? Or was it because those who did figured they'd be hopelessly outgunned?

At any rate, the veteran councillor who bills himself as the champion of common sense made his point: Brockville's elected officials are willing to entertain austerity, but only up to a point.

It's an illustration Earle would have better made, however, had he not yoked this pay cut motion to that other, inevitably confrontational measure of cutting the city staff salary line by five per cent, sparing only those making less than $35,000.

Surely he's been around long enough to know this was a gauntlet-slap in the face of the unions, but one that would be met with no response from same?

The damage from this five-per-cent cut, to be found at staff's discretion, would clearly have been cuts to the non-union ranks at city hall, who just recently saw their 2014 pay raises cranked back in the name of austerity.

Yes, Earle is also sick and tired of being told the wages and benefits lines of departmental budgets are sacrosanct. But the staff-cut business got in the way of the council wage cut argument, and should have been made separately, perhaps even later.

I'll admit, thought, it gave us some pretty good political theatre.

Mayor David Henderson scolded Earle for dropping this staffing-cut bomb at the end of the budget process, when there would be little time to think it through, rather than in August when council and staff first sat down to draw up the budget guidelines.

“Since I'm being lectured to,” Earle replied, it was the mayor who dropped the bombshells of the OPP costing and council reduction without warning.

Henderson sought to counter this by pointing out he had put forward notices of motion: not much of a response, since in each case it was the notices of motion that served as the bombshells.

Budget time is typically when tempers flare, and without a Henry Noble or Bob Huskinson at the table to drive the temperature up, this is probably as heated as it will get.