The Council Transition Allowance Needs a Change

The Council transition allowance needs a change. I’ve said it before. I’m saying it now. However, there are a number of unique circumstance for Councillors that I will get into that leaves me disagreeing with the assessment that it should be outright scrapped. This is something that has been brought up before and I stand behind calling this a “doofus move” but Councillor Farkas needs to recognize that the comment was toward the motion itself and not the Councillor as a person.

Back in April I put forward a Notice of Motion, co-sponsored by Councillors Demong, Colley-Urquhart, and Chahal, calling for a review of Calgary employee total rewards and of the Council transition allowance. My intent regarding total rewards was to scrap the vacation pay retirement allowance that has been paid out to retiring City staff, but there may be other efficiencies and savings to be found as well. Council should be moving forward with ending the retirement allowance by the end of 2021 on Monday (the recommendation is on the consent agenda – if it’s not pulled, it goes through and forms Council direction, if it is pulled we will vote and I expect it to pass).

My April motion also looked at amending the Council transition allowance. Similar to the retirement allowance for City staff, my opinion is the payment of the transition allowance should be scrapped for Councillors who are actually retiring from work in general. My ask was that the Coordinating Committee of the Councillor’s Office include this in the terms of reference and mandate of the Council Compensation Review Committee, whose work is currently underway. I should also note that this is significantly different from the retirement allowance in terms of cost.

There are a few unique circumstances surrounding Councillors in terms of what’s next after serving Calgarians. Did you know?
Councillors cannot collect employment insurance while out of work.
Under the Municipal Government Act, Councillors cannot look for work while still acting as a Councillor as this could be seen as using your role for personal gain.

I also believe there is a major misconception about the employability of a Councillor, regardless if they decide not to seek re-election or are defeated. That being said, I think the overall size of the transition allowance should be amended. As I stated to Postmedia, you only need enough to make a transition into work after politics and not a whole lump-sum of cash when you leave.

I don’t deny that there should absolutely be some personal responsibility of Councillors to save money for any transition from politics, as other citizens do should they lose employment for a period of time. However, given that we don’t have access to things like employment insurance or the ability to seek a job while in office means some support should be offered. I would be happy to look at options to amend the transition allowance, including shortening the cap of how long it’s paid out for. Other changes could include reducing the amount paid to a percentage of salary, and paying the transition allowance in installments like a pay cheque with the ability to end the payment once employment has been found, even if the full entitlement has yet to be paid out. I think we could also look at reducing the transition allowance paid to the mayor to be equal to that paid to a Councillor.

We want to encourage people to run for Council and we don’t want it to necessarily be entirely old guys like me who are nearing retirement. The risk of what happens after Council can be a huge obstacle in deciding to interrupt a person’s career and running. For a professional in their 30s or 40s, deciding to run for Council can be a massive interruption to their career development and result in giving up some of their highest income progression years. Many former Councillors who decided not to run again have had extremely difficult times trying to get back into their former profession and often end up picking up consulting work here and there for development applications. Completely abolishing the transition allowance would likely have some significant unintended consequences and may prevent younger people from running. Not everyone can count on falling back into a cushy think-tank role should they not be back for another term, for whatever reason.

So while the transition allowance is currently being looked at by the Council Compensation Review Committee and this isn’t something that should necessarily be decided on by Council, I do hope they come forward with some balanced, reasoned amendments to be implemented for the next term. Things I would look at would be reducing the maximum payout to the equivalent of six months’ pay, as an absolute maximum. Remove the payment for Councillors not seeking re-election who are of retirement age. Stop payment once new employment is found, even if the full allotment has yet to be paid as there would no longer be a need to support their transition. Look at indexing the rate paid either for all terms or at the very least for the second term and on. Bring the transition allowance paid to the mayor down to the level of a Councillor. These are all solutions that will result in significant savings for taxpayers while still providing some necessary supports to those who choose to interrupt their careers and serve the people of Calgary.