After three videotaped rehearsals to perfect his timing, Premier Bill Bennett went on live television last Thursday and tightened the belts of British Columbia’s 250,000 public servants. But there was immediate outrage over Bennett’s plan to limit civil servants’ wage increases to around 10 per cent, with an absolute limit of 14 per cent. “To hell with him,” snapped Jim Kinnaird, president of the B.C. Federation of Labor. “I’d go after his guts for doing this sort of thing.”
With a contract between the government and 40,000 public employees— ranging from social workers to highway workers—due to expire July 31, the employees are in no mood to accept new restraints. They have been locked into annual eight-per-cent increases for three years, when the cost of living has been far higher—currently 13.4 per cent in Vancouver.
The other thrust to Bennett’s restraint program—limiting increases in government spending to 12 per cent— will hit the already squeezed municipalities, hospitals and school boards.
To many, the only good news in the address was an immediate salary freeze for high civil servants and wage guidelines for members of the legislature. The premier himself has been under attack lately for preaching austerity while hiring more advisers and buying new office furniture. In an apparent gesture of restraint, Patrick Kinsella, Bennett’s deputy minister, trimmed part of his $15,000 order of furniture for his own office.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.