Saturday, August 01, 2009

We're NOT going to take it - are we?

Ever been to one of those meetings where you’re thinking damn, if I have to take another five minutes of this, I’m going to run screaming from the room?
BC Ferries has found an easy solution. They just pay their directors to go - $1,500 a pop if you’re there in person, $750 if you phone in. And that’s on top of the $48,000-$58,000 a year the directors are already getting just to be on the board - an amount that’s quite a bit more than the full-year working wage of an average Canadian.
What the heck is going on? So much is weird in this world around the things we give value to that I sometimes fantasize about becoming one of those crazed tax resisters holed up in a (sunny) hideaway in some distant land. I mean, really, when IS the revolution?
Something dehumanizing must happen to people when they reach the top of the food chain. Otherwise, how could it be that just sitting on a board of directors ends up being worth more than, say, a full year of difficult, stressful work for a bullet-sweating manager of a typical non-profit?
There are nine directors on the ferry authority. Eight receive an annual stipend of $48,000 for agreeing to be on the board, and $10,000 more if they chair a committee. The ninth is the board chair, who gets $140,000. In the last fiscal year, the directors met six times as a full board, and 10 additional times as committees.
If we assume that all nine attended the board meetings (wouldn’t you if someone was paying you $1,500 to be there?), that’s another $81,000, and a further $75,000 if half are presumed to have attended the committee meetings. All in: about $700,000.
My mind often goes to the non-profit sector when I hear about stuff like this, because the contrast is just so dramatic - especially with the government revising its 2009-10 budget downward at this very moment and scaring the wits out of every non-profit in town.
So here’s an interesting fact: What the ferries board got paid last year just to go to a few meetings and stand as directors is substantially richer than the total annual budget of PEERS when I was finishing up my time there as executive director in 2007.
We employed 11 people at PEERS at that time, most of whom were coming out of tough circumstance. We provided outreach to more than 100 women. We ran a training program for another 50 or so participants who came for help getting their lives on track. I like to think we made a real difference in a lot of people’s lives.
Obviously, it’s difficult to compare the worth of providing support to citizens in need with keeping the ferry service running. I’ve seen loads of stats on the tremendous value the ferry service adds to the B.C. economy, but nothing from government that measures the worth of the thousands of little agencies that help British Columbians stabilize and improve their lives.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be clear on any of that to question whether being on the board of the ferry authority should ever be worth more than a year of work for the average Canadian. I say no.
Another example of top-of-the-food-chain syndrome: the use of gambling revenues. Anticipate disaster for non-profits if the grants really are frozen this year, because the arts and culture grants hitting the headlines now are just the first of seven waves of annual grants that thousands of agencies depend on.
Once upon a time, British Columbians agreed to let government turn gambling into a major revenue stream, largely because charities were supposed to reap the benefits. And gambling did indeed turn into a major revenue stream, one that generates over a billion dollars a year in net profit for the province. That’s more than a 100 per cent increase from a decade ago.
But the amount designated for charity has risen less than 25 per cent. Ten years ago, 5,000 B.C. charities shared just under a third of all government gaming profits. Now, almost 7,000 charities compete for just 17 per cent of the pie, and the average annual grant per charity has fallen almost $3,000. And we just take it.
Throw open the nearest window, people, and lean out all crazy-eyed like Peter Finch did in the movie Network. Shout loud enough to rattle the roof in the places where it’s so painfully clear they don’t have a clue how it feels to be us: We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.


Anonymous said...

-When the board at BC Ferries gave themselves an exorbitant raise at the taxpayers' expense, then Minister responsible Falcon said that as distasteful as that was, there was nothing the government could do, because of the Act. I guess he forgot how quickly the government took over the helm when there was a labour dispute with the union.

Coastal Ferry Act not withstanding, if the government was serious about a review, they'd ask the independent Auditor General,not the hanpicked Comptroller General

Askip1 said...

Way to go Jody. Keep up the good work.