SLB pay claims hit absurd note
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.