The current council was just a couple of months into its mandate when it approved raises for elected officials. Chaisson opposed the remuneration hike and wasn’t going to accept the money until she was told she had no choice but to accept it 17 months later.
She said she ran her first election campaign on fiscal responsibility and accountability and said that has not changed. She also voted against council being given iPads, even if they already had their own device and, more recently, asked that councillors give public updates on any meetings or conferences they attend on the taxpayer’s dime.
The fact that city council remuneration now costs the city around $20,000 more than it did when she came into office still doesn’t sit well with Chaisson and she doesn’t want to see it rise any further.
“I’ve been accused of doing this as a feeble attempt to garnish votes,” she said. “This is not something that only started in the last two months because there’s an election coming up. This is something I’ve stood for for the last three and a half years and I will continue to do it.”
Chaisson’s first campaign promise drew a bit of a mixed reaction from some of her fellow councillors.
Deputy Mayor Donna Luther, who will also be seeking re-election in the fall, said she has no intention of participating in Chaisson’s campaign.
“This decision will be left to the next council,” Luther wrote in an email. “My campaign will be on economic development and growing this city by creating a sense of place for our residents. My focus will be on sustainable development, growing our recycling program and ensure our voice is heard as part of the (Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador) lobby for a better fiscal formula to ensure Corner Brook gets the money it needs to ensure capital projects are funded so the burden is not on the tax payer.
“If Coun. Chaisson wants to get elected by saving a few dollars on iPads and raises, that's her choice.”
Coun. Leo Bruce, who said he is 90 per cent sure but not ready to announce his intentions for the next election just yet, said he is comfortable with the current setup for council remuneration, which is tied to any salary increases given to the City of Corner Brook’s senior management.
He said changing that formula would be a decision for the next slate of councillors to decide, but thinks it might be reckless to introduce a freeze.
“Doing a freeze like that could be quite awkward and could put future councils in the same situation we were in three years ago with the remuneration fiasco,” he said in a phone interview. “That could handcuff future councils, whether in four, eight or 12 years’ time, where they would have to make a tough decision and go through public scrutiny.
“This is not something that only started in the last two months because there’s an election coming up. This is something I’ve stood for for the last three and a half years and I will continue to do it.” - Linda Chaisson, Corner Brook city councillor
“I think it’s dangerous and personally think we should leave it as it is.”
Coun. Gary Kelly believes council, even if it is paid slightly less than comparable councils in Mount Pearl or Conception Bay South, is remunerated adequately right now.
“The last time when I ran, I was on public record that I was comfortable with where council remuneration was,” said Kelly, who is seeking re-election too. “I don’t think this is worthy of being a plank in a campaign election platform.”
Coun. Donna Francis also said any changes to remuneration is also an issue that would have to be dealt with by the next council.
“We have councillors who take part in very few council activities and others who give freely of their time and are very dedicated to the best interest of the city,” Francis said in an emailed response. “For those who spend numerous hours and weekends away from family to educate themselves on municipal issues, and for those who are truly interested in making well-informed decisions, and for those who seek information from various sources to find new solutions to old problems, I wouldn't hastily judge what their time is worth and neither should anyone else.”
Francis has not yet decided if she will be seeking a second term on council, but did say some change would be good. She hopes the enhanced remuneration this council approved will lure quality candidates out for the next vote.
“We need new blood to run for election with new thoughts and engaging ideas,” she said. “We need people who are interested in investing a great deal of time and effort to council, not people who enter their first council meeting and state, ‘I cannot be available for many meetings due to work.’ They may claim fiscal responsibility, but have they given the time commitment that every citizen of Corner Brook expects from each and every councillor?
“I hope that the slight raise in council pay will attract new individuals to throw their hat in the ring this time around. Then let the new council make its own decisions.”
Neither Mayor Neville Greeley, nor Coun. Priscilla Boutcher replied to The Western Star’s request for reaction to Chaisson’s comments Monday.