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OPINION: Municipal Politicians are the Ginger Rogers of Politics

‘Flying Down to Rio.’ (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first film together)

As Federal and Provincial politicians return home after weeks upon weeks of working in the nation's capital and provincial capitals, it becomes evident that municipal politicians are not afforded the same luxury of a "Constituency Week" in their communities.

It seems that for them, this is called day to day life of a politician.

However, this discrepancy raises important questions about fairness and the recognition of the tireless efforts of municipal leaders who remain on the ground every day, working tirelessly for their constituents.

Municipal politicians are in the trenches day in and day out. They diligently attend council meetings, read reports, participate in local events, and promptly respond to inquiries from their constituents. Unlike their federal and provincial counterparts, when Federal and Provincial parliamentarians enter special meetings or engage in routine proceedings in the House of Commons or Provincial and Territorial legislatures, they leave their office but remain in the capital city. They often do not return to their communities until a designated constituency week.

It is undeniable that Federal and Provincial politicians receive generous compensation packages and more perks compared to their municipal counterparts. While the majority of municipal politicians may receive per-meeting salaries they earn significantly less for the same amount of work their counterparts at the provincial, territorial, and federal levels perform.

Now some cities do get paid handsomely as well, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal to name a few.

What only exacerbates the disparity is that municipal politicians are the ones we interact with regularly, yet they often face a second-class treatment compared to their provincial and federal counterparts. They are not regarded as equals by their colleagues at other levels of government, are inadequately compensated for their efforts, and are unable to enjoy the anonymity of being a regular person in the grocery store.

It is not uncommon to see a municipal politician unable to complete a trip to the grocery store without being stopped to provide information or listen to a constituent's concerns. In contrast, this rarely occurs provincially, and federally it is even rarer. Once, I witnessed a local Member of Parliament entering a Future Shop and seeking assistance for a Christmas gift. After the MP finished conversing with a salesperson, I asked the salesperson if they recognized who they had been talking to. Sadly, they did not.

The point here is that, municipally, a majority of people know who their municipal councillors or mayors are. Slightly fewer would recognize their local provincial politicians, and even fewer would recognize their federal representatives. While we may know their names, would we be able to put a face to them if they walked into a room?

This brings us to the crux of the matter: Municipal leaders are severely underpaid and overworked for the responsibilities they shoulder, while federal politicians enjoy a range of perks including free housing in Ottawa, free flights to and from their home communities, and a large staff. Additionally, federal politicians have designated weeks where they can focus on constituency work, engaging with their constituents and addressing issues of importance.

For municipal politicians that is called being a politicians doing two things at once.

In this digital age, where communication tools like Zoom and Skype enable remote collaboration, shouldn't federal politicians be required to spend more time in Ottawa, fulfilling their duties and tackling the pressing matters at hand? The time has come to reconsider the disparities between the three orders of governments and the allocation of responsibilities between municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government.

To borrow from Bob Thaves, "Sure, federal politicians are great, but let's not forget that municipal politicians do everything federal politicians do... backwards and for far less pay."

It is high time we recognize the invaluable contributions of our municipal leaders and afford them the same respect, and dedicated time to serve their communities as their federal and provincial counterparts receive.

*Correction - An earlier version of the title was tweeted out with the title "Municipal Politicians are the Ginger Roberts of Politics"


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