Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has been right on the money when pointing to a key frustration among Canadians: Federal politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups close to power have made life tougher for ordinary Canadians, while enriching themselves.
The struggle for Poilievre will be to prove to Canadians he is different from the rest of Ottawa’s establishment.
Here’s his clearest opportunity to send that message: oppose the looming pay raise for members of Parliament. On April 1, MPs will once again take home bigger paycheques the same day the feds take more money from Canadians through higher carbon taxes and alcohol taxes.
Poilievre clearly understands governments are causing the financial pinch Canadians are facing.
“The cost of government is driving up the cost of living,” Poilievre said on the Canadian Taxpayers Podcast. “Half-a-trillion dollars of inflationary deficits have sent more dollars bidding up the price of fewer goods. Inflationary taxes have made it more expensive for businesses to produce those goods.”
Poilievre’s Conservatives have also criticized failing government bureaucrats who have been rewarding themselves, while making life harder for Canadians. The Conservatives condemned Bank of Canada executives for giving themselves “bonuses while Canadians struggle” with decades-high inflation and interest rate hikes.
Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer rightly hammered the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for issuing $75 million in bonuses while countless Canadians can’t afford a home.
Poilievre and his Conservatives are identifying the issue perfectly.
The government is making life more expensive while taking more and more money from ordinary working Canadians. Then, politicians and bureaucrats turn around and reward themselves with fancy trips, pay raises and big bonuses.
What’s the one thing conveniently missing from the Conservatives’ analysis? Their own MP pay.
A backbench MP’s salary is now $194,600. A minister collects $287,400 while the prime minister takes home a $389,200 annual salary.
Since 2020, MPs have taken four pay raises, ranging from an extra $15,700 for a backbencher to an extra $31,400 for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And they’re about to take another raise April 1.
Stopping the next pay raise can be done. In fact, the Harper government stopped automatic MP pay hikes between 2010 and 2013 in response to the 2008/09 recession.
The raises have continued in recent years because no political party has had the guts to break ranks and make a stink about it.
MPs have largely shrugged off the raises, with some promising to donate a bit of extra cash to charity. Meanwhile, polls consistently show 80% of Canadians oppose the pay raises.
The Conservatives aren’t in government. But they are perfectly positioned to aggressively oppose this year’s politician pay raise. They’re the only party championing lower taxes, balanced budgets and an end to wasteful spending. They also have the most to gain by proving to their base they’re not the same as the other parties.
And if the Conservatives truly wish to balance the budget through savings, they’ll need the moral authority to sell cuts to the bureaucracy.
Before going on strike last year, federal government unions pointed to “the yearly salary increases of senators and members of Parliament” as a reason bureaucrats should be given more cash.
Former Alberta United Conservative Party premier Jason Kenney understood this well. That’s why Kenney cut his own pay by 10% and MLA pay by 5% when selling Albertans on the need to rein in government spending.
Poilievre is right to point out that government has been making life harder for Canadians while rewarding itself. But he should go a step further: walk the talk and aggressively push to stop the upcoming MP pay raise.
Franco Terrazzano is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation