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Time for a raise?

Chris Hunsley
Northern News Services

Inuvik (July 25/05) - It will be six months before members of the Legislative Assembly learn if they'll get a raise and until then the public will have the microphone.

"What we discussed this morning was how to ensure some public input," said former Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes, chair of the recently appointed Commission to Review Members' Compensation and Benefits.

Also on the panel are Sean Whelly of Fort Simpson and John Simpson of Yellowknife. Simpson is a former chair of the NWT Liquor Board.

The last time MLA salaries were reviewed, only one member of the public and eight MLAs provided submissions.

The final decision will be made when the commission convenes again in early August.

The review of indemnities, allowances, expenses and benefits provided to members is a legislated requirement and must occur within two years of a general election.

Elected officials receive a three per cent pay increase annually.

Currently, MLAs earn a base salary of $82,549. Cabinet ministers bring home $126,728.

The speaker, deputy speaker, deputy chair of committee of the whole and chairs of standing and special committees receive further indemnities.

Add to that $6,394-$9,882 as a non-taxable expense allowance and up to $30,150 accommodation allowance for those who live more than 80 kilometres from Yellowknife and pay packages can easily exceed $150,000.

Nunakput MLA Calvin Pokiak said the review is in order but added that money was not the driving factor when he decided to run for election.

He said the review should be as public as possible.

In 2001, the commission spent $11,586.63 to produce its report and listed seven recommendations, all adopted without debate by MLAs.

Recommendations included increasing the indemnity for chairs of standing committees to $5,000 and establishing a $2,500 indemnity for chairs of special committees. They also recommended an additional five flights a year between Yellowknife and an MLA's home community for travel by a spouse, partner or dependent and to link constituency budgets to inflation.