Severance Reform – Putting an End to Back Door Bonuses
Last week, Manitobans learned that when Greg Selinger’s former chief of staff left his job last November, he departed with $146,000 in severance and leftover vacation pay. He’d only been on the job for two and a half years.
Is this an outrage? Yes, but the problem isn’t with Martin personally. News reports made it clear this is really a problem of broader government policy. Apparently, under the NDP, insiders can now expect a year of severance on their way out the door as a matter of routine.
Public confidence in government has been undermined by the public’s growing belief that many politicians, political staffers and senior civil servants are in it for themselves. Headlines about rich severance, expenses and carefree travel have fed this sense that government leadership is about entitlement, not public service for fair pay. In the process, the hardworking majority of public servants suffer, thanks to guilt-by-association.
More than a year ago, concerned Manitobans created a new organization — Manitoba Forward — to call for real action on our biggest challenges. Guiding Manitoba Hydro and balancing the provincial budget are big challenges. Improving education and health care are big challenges. The search for higher-wage private sector jobs and more investment are big challenges.
Those issues matter — but we won’t be able to fix our problems if we don’t also change how Manitoba’s powerful political class does business.
Once severance is so high that payouts push public servants into the very top tier of Manitoba incomes, we are at a point where severance isn’t a transition payment at all. Once political figures can count on rich payouts whether they quit, were pushed out or got fired, then it isn’t a transition payment any more. It’s a back-door bonus, different from salary only in that you get to collect it after you’re no longer accountable for it.
In a province with so many challenges — and so much untapped potential — issues that undermine public confidence in government deserve attention. That’s why we should ask our local MLAs and candidates to formally promise to reform public sector severance. Whether it’s a pledge, a policy or draft legislation, change is needed. Note that Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman recently tried to reform city council severance and pay, with mixed results.
New rules should end big severance payouts in the public sector, with none for voluntary retirements and resignations. This has been a costly and unfair privilege that distances Manitoba’s overpowered political class from the general public. We must limit how generous public sector severance can be to match economic realities. Three weeks or a month per year of service is considered generous in the private sector.
If those changes had been in place, Martin’s severance payout, assuming he was fired, would have been something closer to $30,000 plus unused vacation, not $146,000. If he’d been fired for cause or voluntarily resigned, his payout would have been just for unused vacation, as it is for thousands of taxpaying Manitobans leaving private sector jobs.
Levelling out and reforming severance policy for the public sector is not the biggest problem with government practices in Manitoba today, but it is one worth dealing with.
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