Comment 29926

By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2009 at 22:37:44

First of all thanks for the news credit.

The rules regarding severance are statutory in nature. They originated with the legislature and city council can of course pass their own rules as well. However if they pass legislation which the citizens of Hamilton disagree with it is likely that they will find themselves very unpopular very quickly. Still, they may do so at their risk, and I do think it's a big risk right now because the citizens of Hamilton seem overwhelming opposed according to the Spectator's online pole.

One of the posts suggests that this is all about respect, and how people have a lack of respect for politicians. I strongly disagree with the assertion that I should respect them because they gave up their "normal job/career" to serve the city. It was their choice to do so, and I will not respect someone for that any more than any other person who chooses to change careers. I don't know why we should respect politicians more than any other hardworking citizen, or any other person who switches careers. Politicians are not all motivated by noble intentions, and to paint them all with the same brush is an oversimplification. I don't usually dole out respect based solely on type of employment.

By framing this as an issue of respect I think that Mr. Clark has missed the mark. Severance pay is not designed to "respect" workers, it's designed to ease their transition to a new job where they have been given inadequate notice of their pending termination. Contract workers with fixed end dates do not get severance pay. Workers who get sufficient notice of their upcoming termination do not get severance pay. Workers unexpectedly fired due to a change in economic circumstances do get severance pay.

My guess is that city councillors have little trouble transitioning to a new job. They make a plethora of contacts during their time in office and I haven't heard of many former politicians ending up at McDonalds because they can't find any other job. But let's leave that aside. City councillors are by their nature, more like contract workers than regular employees. They have fixed start and end dates for their terms. They can apply for another term (like interviewing for a new contract position) and there is no guarantee they will be successful. As a result there is very little in the way of a rationale for why they deserve severance pay. The prudent politician will prepare for the possibility that they will not win the election by establishing contact with potential employers, perhaps even interviewing, getting job offers, just as a contract employee would. It's hardly the fault of the taxpayers that the politician overestimated his chances of "getting the contract." As I already suggested getting hired somewhere else should hardly be a problem given the contacts they make.

Finally, I'll say let's go ahead with Clark's study, because studies don't bind us to action, they simply provide us with more facts and information. Let's pay attention to the quality of politicians these cities that offer severance are attracting and compare them to cities that don't offer severance. Let's also compare what happens at the provincial/state and federal levels both in Canada and the US. Just because other cities offer severance packages doesn't mean that the talent they attract is any better. If higher levels of government don't offer severance it can also be rather telling. Finally let's also look at how soon after losing an election past councillors have found alternative employment. Maybe we'll all be pleasantly surprised to learn they quickly find alternate employment and don't need severance at all!

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