COMMENTARY: As COVID-19 hits Canada’s bottom line, MPs should share the pain

Jacinda Ardern, the cool, young prime minister of New Zealand, recently revealed that she speaks regularly on the phone to her Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau.

The next time they talk, perhaps she could encourage Trudeau to follow her example and take a personal pay cut as the planet struggles through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ardern has emerged as one of the world’s most dynamic political leaders. “Jacindamania” caught on following her sensitive and compassionate leadership of New Zealand after last year’s shocking mosque shootings in Christchurch.

She has demonstrated her leadership skills again during the coronavirus pandemic, directing one of the globe’s toughest anti-virus lockdowns.

As the country’s economy suffered under the restrictions, Ardern announced she would share the pain.

“If there was ever a time to close the gap between groups of people across New Zealand in different positions, it is now,” Ardern said last month, announcing she and her cabinet ministers would accept a 20 per cent cut in salary.

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“I am responsible for the executive branch and this is where we can take action,” she said, noting the move was to show “leadership and solidarity” with the New Zealand people.

Other world political leaders have made similar personal sacrifices. Politicians in India, Singapore and Japan took pay cuts, while municipal mayors and councillors have tightened their belts, too.

But what of Trudeau and other federal MPs in Canada?

There’s been no pay cut, though most MPs announced they would donate their recent two per cent pay raises to charity.

That’s not good enough for Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which has launched a campaign to pressure MPs to reduce their $181,000 annual salaries.

“They’re working hard and I give them credit for that,” Wudrick told me.

“But this is not about how hard they’re working. A lot of Canadians are working hard, but they’ve seen pay cuts, they’ve had their hours cut. Millions have lost their jobs.”

Most Canadians appear to agree with him. An Angus Reid opinion poll suggested about two-thirds of Canadians support an MP pay cut.

“Canadians are in favour of this in every part of the country, every demographic, every age group, every political party affiliation,” Wudrick said, adding “tens of thousands” of Canadians have signed an online petition supporting the idea.

But would an MP pay cut be anything other than a symbolic gesture?

Perhaps, but Wudrick said a 20 per cent MP salary reduction would still save Canadian taxpayers $12 million a year.

“People have said to me, ‘Isn’t it a little mean-spirited?’ But I would say it’s all about the math. When this is all over, we are going to have to pay down a massive deficit, 10 times larger than we’ve had,” Wudrick said.

“We will have to pay the piper eventually, and MPs should show they’re willing to lead by example right now.”

I’d say the “right now” part is crucial. Trudeau and other MPs would be wise to take a pay cut sooner rather than later if they want taxpayers to give them credit for their sacrifice.

Don’t forget MPs pocket generous perks and benefits. And Trudeau and his cabinet ministers receive large salary bonuses.

They can afford to shoulder a little of the burden. And if they do take the pay cut, it could actually help their political careers if Canadians believe the move is sincere.

If Trudeau won’t listen to ordinary Canadians on this, maybe he will listen to the political opposition.

If Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was smart, he and his Tory colleagues would take a unilateral pay cut right now, while challenging Trudeau and the other parties in the House of Commons to match their efforts.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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