SLB pay claims hit ab­surd note

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - Local - MURRAY MANDRYK

Try­ing to fol­low Liquor and Gam­ing Min­is­ter Deb Hig­gins’s logic in ex­plain­ing why liquor store clerks de­serve $21.28 an hour re­minds me of an old joke a fer­vent New Demo­crat once told me:

Two neigh­bour­ing farm­ers, one a so­cial­ist, the other a cap­i­tal­ist, are ar­gu­ing po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy. “You mean you would share your cow with me?” the cap­i­tal­ist farmer asks.

“Yes,” says the so­cial­ist farmer.

“You mean you would share your pig with me?” asks the cap­i­tal­ist farmer.

“Yes,” replies the so­cial­ist farmer.

“You mean you would share your chicken with me?” asks the cap­i­tal­ist farmer.

“Well, no,” says the so­cial­ist farmer.

“Why not?” asks the cap­i­tal­ist farmer.

“Be­cause you know I have chicken,” replies the so­cial­ist farmer.

Funny stuff. Well, al­most as funny as Hig­gins’s ar­gu­ment that those who sell booze in gov­ern­ment-run liquor stores should be paid about same as those who work in mines or hos­pi­tals be­cause there isn’t much dif­fer­ence in the ser­vices they pro­vide.

Ac­tu­ally, there is some dif­fer­ence, Ms. Hig­gins. The peo­ple in the hospi­tal with the white coats — the ones we call “doc­tor” — they need a bit more skill, ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing than, say, your av­er­age liquor store em­ployee or Safe­way clerk.

And at least since the 1989 fall of the Ber­lin Wall, which ended a 70-year utopian no­tion that ev­ery­one should share equally in a so­ci­ety’s wealth, most of us have come to ac­cept that one’s earn­ings should be some­what pro­por­tional to one’s so­ci­etal con­tri­bu­tion. Per­haps it’s time for Hig­gins, Pre­mier Lorne Calvert and the rest of this NDP gov­ern­ment to reach the same con­clu­sion.

Ad­mit­tedly, they aren’t the only ones who must be taken to task for their com­ments this week about liquor store wages. It also needs to be said of the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion, which ig­nited this de­bate with a press re­lease en­ti­tled, “SLGA bu­reau­crats on a build­ing binge.”

Ac­cord­ing to CTF’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of in­for­ma­tion it ob­tained from the prov­ince, “The cost of run­ning gov­ern­ment liquor stores has soared by 33 per cent over the past four years.” As well, it claimed, “Salaries for liquor store em­ploy­ees have jumped by 23 per cent since 2003, with largest in­crease (13 per cent) tak­ing place over the past year.”

But typ­i­cal of the CTF, which shame­lessly spins in­for­ma­tion to out­rage the pub­lic and sell more mem­ber­ships, its Saskatchewan rep­re­sen­ta­tive David Ma­cLean con­ve­niently ne­glected to take into con­sid­er­a­tion that much of this dra­matic in­crease in over­all labour costs is re­lated to the fact that liquor stores be­gan open­ing for longer hours over the past four years.

Al­most ev­ery­thing one hears from the Saskatchewan CTF must be taken with a grain of salt, es­pe­cially its pen­chant to por­tray the most ex­treme cases in gov­ern­ment as the norm.

Sure, the top salary for a liquor store cus­tomer-ser­vice em­ployee is $21.28 per hour ($44,262 a year) — dou­ble the av­er­age salary for a Saskatchewan cashier ($10.24 per hour, or $21,299 a year), as the CTF sug­gests. But the bot­tom salary for a liquor store clerk is $14.85 an hour, and one is bound to meet a lot of them at or around the bot­tom end.

Ma­cLean went on to com­pare the max­i­mum $34.91 an hour a liquor store man­ager re­ceives with the “av­er­age” hourly wage of $26.54 for a fire­fighter and $30.67 for a po­lice of­fi­cer.

“It’s a dis­grace that you can earn more run­ning a liquor store than you can sav­ing lives,” he claimed. “It’s time to re-think state-run liquor.”

Per­haps we should have this de­bate, but first we should ac­knowl­edge that some­one in a man­age­ment po­si­tion at a liquor store should be com­pared with some­one in a man­age­ment po­si­tion at a po­lice sta­tion or fire hall. Clearly, the CTF’s agenda is to ad­vo­cate sell­ing the liquor stores, but at least Ma­cLean is be­ing hon­est about that.

That’s more than one can say about the Saskatchewan Party, which des­per­ately has been try­ing to pre­tend that it doesn’t feel ex­actly the same way.

To hear party MLAs, such as Dan D’Autremont (who likely doesn’t have a gov­ern­ment liquor ven­dor in his en­tire Can­ning­ton rid­ing), tell us that his own con­stituents are de­mand­ing pub­licly owned liquor stores is al­most as lu­di­crous as what we heard from Hig­gins. I said al­most. In re­al­ity, it may be a while be­fore we hear any­thing quite that silly.

If Ma­cLean is go­ing to be crit­i­cized for spin­ning the salary num­bers to make his case to pri­va­tize liquor stores, he should be thanked for demon­strat­ing that: (a) we are pay­ing our liquor store em­ploy­ees more than the mar­ket dic­tates, and (b) we’re do­ing so be­cause our gov­ern­ment is run by politi­cians such as Hig­gins who cling to a phi­los­o­phy from an­other cen­tury.

It’s one thing for liquor store work­ers to re­ceive dou­bledigit salary in­creases at a time pub­lic ser­vants are sup­posed to be un­der 0-1-1 per cent wage guide­lines. That’s just politi­cians be­ing typ­i­cally de­cep­tive and philo­soph­i­cally self-serv­ing. Af­ter all, the more gov­ern­ment work­ers are paid, the hap­pier they are and the more in­clined they are to vote NDP.

But it’s quite an­other thing for Hig­gins to sug­gest that there’s re­ally no dif­fer­ence in the value of work of some­one in a liquor store, mine or hospi­tal. It’s not over­stat­ing things to say this is the kind of thing that scares private in­vest­ment away from Saskatchewan.

It’s about here that the old so­cial­ist jokes are no laugh­ing mat­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.