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Pique n' Your Interest

Give yourselves a raise

I don’t think you could pay me enough to entice me into the world of politics, especially local politics. It’s as simple as that.

As it turns out, more and more women are feeling the same way I do. At least, that’s the news from Councillor Marianne Wade, who recently attended a Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in Ottawa on the topic of women’s participation in politics.

For the past year and a half the FCM has been conducting a research project on women’s participation in municipal politics. The findings were a little grim, to say the least.

The vast majority of councils surveyed (86 per cent) did not have equal representations between men and women on council. And to top it off, 14 per cent didn’t have any women on council at all. Fourteen per cent with not a woman to be seen? How can that possibly be true in this day and age?

But, of course, it makes perfect sense. From my own experience covering the machinations of political life in Whistler, being on council is not an easy role. In fact, I might even go as far to say, it seems to me to be a thankless job sometimes, equally thankless for both the men and women.

On top of all that, and indeed central to all that, the pay is totally crap. And that’s the crux of the problem right there. If municipalities made it financially worthwhile to be a member of council, you may find more women running for office.

The recommendations listed by the FCM task force to improve female participation included: building partnerships between local governments and grassroots women’s organizations as well as addressing the systemic and practical barriers to women’s participation.

I have a recommendation too. It’s simple. Pay them more, both the men and the women. Make it worth their while.

Women, as we often hear, are juggling a lot of things these days. More often than not they’re working full-time. They, for the most part, are the primary caregivers of any children and they are the main homemakers – though I’m still not exactly sure what that word means.

I think though women everywhere are feeling the pressures to be great moms, great wifes/partners/great employees. It’s got to be stressful. To add being a great politician on top of all that seems to be asking a bit much.

In Whistler, of course, we buck the national trends. I don’t think it would be Whistler if we weren’t bucking the national trends. Of the six councillors, three are women, and strong vocal women at that, with Mayor Hugh O’Reilly tipping the balance in favour of the men as the seventh member of council.

Still, Whistler councillors only make about $17,000 a year.

When you factor in the marathon council sessions, the all-day meetings, the schmoozing events, the Canada Day parades, the CSP community workshops, the public hearings, the committee work, that $17,000 works out to be about $1.50 per hour by my rough calculations (and by rough calculations I mean totally pulling the number out of thin air because it sounds good).

I don’t doubt that there are tons of uncounted hours spent mulling over the pros and cons of big decisions that could change Whistler forever. I don’t doubt that there are tons of uncounted hours fielding questions about public policy when they’re on their own time, skiing or buying groceries or having a quiet coffee in the village. And don’t forget all the pesky phone calls from media that they deal with almost every week.

I’ve disturbed almost every councillor at home in the evenings. They’ve talked to me while they’re making dinner for their kids. They’ve talked to me in the middle of their busy workday. They’ve talked to me on the road and at airports. One councillor even returned my phone call while he was on holidays in the U.S.

Though my calculations may be rough, I think it’s safe to say that working as a councillor puts your hourly wage well below the minimum wage.

Is the job really worth $17,000 a year? I can’t help but think it isn’t. Then again, I may not have a very well developed sense of civic duty. Going to the polling stations once every three years about sums it up.

So are they just gluttons for punishment?

Well, I think we have to assume that people do it because they love the job. They love the responsibility of setting public policy. They love the public participation. They love speaking passionately about libraries and animal shelters and Bombardier product launches!

But seeing as Whistler is heading into budget talks for 2005, and seeing how the CSP was just adopted, representing the culmination of years of work, and seeing as we keep hearing about how busy it’s going to get in the lead up to the Olympics, it might just be time to review our councillors’ salary.

I wouldn’t do the job myself. Indeed, most of us wouldn’t. So doesn’t it behoove us to pay those, both the men and the women who do it, a little better?