Who are politicians supposed to represent – the people who vote them in or the employees at City Hall?

That should be an easy answer – they should be looking out for the voters and taxpayers who elect them.

One of the areas that we would hope city councillors always have our best interest at heart is our tax dollars and how they get spent. A big expenditure is paying public-sector employees. When negotiating contracts with city unions, municipal councils must prioritize getting the best deal possible for taxpayers.

But what if the interests of the mayor and councillors are aligned with the unions and not with taxpayers? What if the councillors get a bit more money every time they hand the unions a raise?

Well, that’s how it works in the City of North Vancouver.

This week, the City of North Vancouver council voted to give themselves a pay raise of 1.33%. They reportedly did it quickly and without any debate during this week’s council meeting.

Of course, none of them ran in the 2014 election on a platform of promising to hike their own pay.

What makes this story interesting – besides it being outrageous that councillors would make giving themselves a raise a top post-election priority – is the way council calculated their raise.

Back in 2012, the city approved a new policy that tied council wages to a formula based on the wage increases of North Vancouver city workers, firefighters and inflation.

This means that if the firefighters or city workers get a raise, so do the mayor and council.

And who, may you ask, negotiates with the unions regarding their compensation? City council, that’s who.

It’s a backwards system. Instead of being incentivized to hold the line on pay hikes for government employees, council is incentivized to do the exact opposite because it results in a raise for them.

North Vancouver is not alone – formulas that determine municipal politicians’ pay exist in other jurisdictions in B.C. A formula based on the pay of other Metro Vancouver mayors which is used by Pitt Meadows city council resulted in a 7% pay raise in 2013. In fact, the formula used in Pitt Meadows is so flawed, it has resulted in a staggering 50% pay increase for local politicians there since 2008.

City councils should be standing up for taxpayers. Pay-scale formulas that operate in favour of the unions and city workers, or result in unjustified pay bumps for politicians, should be scrapped.

Someone once wrote that if you want to stop a politician from making a decision, just tell them it is a “courageous choice.” When we say courageous, they hear, “This might cost me the next election.”

We elect our leaders to make the tough choices, but too often they are cowards who try to avoid the real public policy problems so they can remain popular.

And this week we got a great example of that, courtesy of the Vancouver School Board.

The public school system in Vancouver has a problem – each year there are fewer and fewer students. In fact, enrolment is down by about 3,600 students over the last seven years. This is happening because the population is aging, and more and more parents are choosing to put their children in independent schools.

Funding to school boards follows the students – so the B.C. government gives the VSB a certain amount of money for each student enrolled. So when the number of students drops, the cheques from Victoria get smaller.

Running schools is expensive, with lots of salaries to pay and big maintenance bills. So if you were teaching fewer kids and your budget was shrinking correspondingly, what would you do? Close down a few schools that had low enrolment or keep them all open and hope someone else will figure out how to solve the problem?

I will let you guess which choice the previous school board went with. Yes, they went the cowardly way and instead of facing down a few parents angry that their child has to go to a school a few blocks farther away, they imposed a moratorium on closing schools.

What’s even worse is that certain areas of the city, like downtown or the UBC endowment lands, are growing fast and actually need new schools. But the trustees have a hard time finding the money to build new, desperately needed schools because they were busy keeping open the ones with declining enrolment.

But now we have a new school board with a new direction. So instead of extending Vision’s moratorium on closing schools, they have passed a motion to “consider” extending the moratorium.

This is what passes for courage among our elected officials. But hey, it’s a start.

With Vision losing its majority on school board, there is a chance that the right decision must be made. Stop wasting money on empty schools, close the ones that don’t have the enrolment and open new ones in growing neighbourhoods where they are desperately needed.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how newly elected Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner and her Surrey First council had surprised residents with a tax hike that, for the average home, means $162 more a year.

Part of this increase is a new $100 “cultural and recreational parcel tax.”

This was a big surprise for the voters because neither Hepner nor any of her councillors mentioned this tax during the election campaign.

Well, at least now Hepner has admitted something that is plainly obvious – that there was no mention of it before voting day. Not even a whisper.

As it now turns out, there isn’t enough money in the city coffers to do the things Surrey First promised to do on the campaign trail, and so the newly elected government is going thank voters by raiding their pockets.

You see, Hepner and her party made some big promises during the campaign, including hiring 100 cops to fight Surrey’s crime problem, along with three bylaw officers. But hiring these new people doesn’t come cheap, especially when city council also has other big spending plans that include expensive swimming pools and other infrastructure.

Hepner says the levy is necessary to pay for the new cops while also keeping the city’s ambitious building plans going. There have been unexpected city costs like a firefighter pay raise, a benefits increase for the RCMP, and operating costs of new pools that have also tied up city funds.

Hold on, Surrey First is placing the blame for the tax hike on unexpected city costs? They were the last city council, so it would appear that they have no one to blame but themselves.

And how were these costs unexpected? Weren’t these spending decisions made in advance of the election?

Hepner was a city councillor before she was elected mayor and five of the eight councillors were there before the last election. So why are the expenses and costs of running the city suddenly coming as a surprise to Hepner and her councillors?

Surrey city council has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Rather than squeezing taxpayers for more money to fund their promises, Hepner and her council should be cutting spending and re-assessing their pricey infrastructure plans.

It seems that Surrey First never properly costed their platform and never thought to examine exactly what sort of future obligations the council was committed to. Now taxpayers are paying the price.

I usually write about politics, but since I recently became a mom, I have been thinking a lot about all things motherhood, pregnancy and baby related. Here is a little list of some things I learned about pregnancy and new motherhood along the way:

  1. If you have lost a pregnancy, there will always be that lonely pause after someone asks you if this is your first baby.
  2. The maternity clothes you excitedly went out and bought when you were 3 months pregnant will stop fitting you somewhere around the 7th month. You will then have to go out and buy a whole new round of tunics, tights and maxi dresses. Sigh.
  3. By month 9, you will start feeling like a tourist attraction each time you leave the house – the incredible pregnant woman, inches away from birthing her baby in the middle of a busy street!
  4. You will learn the hard way that people say the strangest things to a heavily pregnant woman.
  5. Every minute you go past your due date will feel like a year.
  6. You will be insanely excited when labour starts, but that feeling will soon be replaced by intense pain and then you will wonder why you were so excited to be in this much pain.
  7. You won’t wear or use 90% of the things you packed in your hospital bag.
  8. Breastfeeding is natural but it doesn’t come naturally. Formula feeding, whether by choice or not by choice, does not make you a bad mom. You are a great mom when you do what works best for both you and your baby.
  9. In the hospital you will at some point in a sleep deprived daze ask the maternity nurse to take your baby to the hospital nursery so you can sleep, only to be told rather curtly that those discontinued sometime in the 80’s. Then you will curse the person who made the decision to discontinue them.
  10. The first shower you have after you deliver your baby will feel like the best shower you have ever had in your entire life.
  11. Your favorite post-partum visitors will be the ones who drop off ready to eat home-made food in disposable containers and leave with a trunk full of your dirty laundry. They will do this in complete silence without making eye contact.
  12. Onesies with zippers will save you.
  13. You’ll put away a lot of adorable newborn size clothes still with their tags on them because let’s face it, newborn size is kind of a funny joke designed to make your friends waste their money.
  14. 14. As amazing as your new tiny person is with her/his wonderfully complex anatomy formed by your body in only 9 months, you will not be able to stop gushing over those adorable little baby fingernails. Seriously, what’s with the obsession with fingernails? Why don’t people gush more over the brain, eyes or small intestine?!
  15. You will cry on the inside when people brag that their baby sleeps through the night.
  16. By day 5 post-partum you will google “night nurse”.
  17. You will quickly learn why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture in some countries.
  18. Taking a bath feels like going to the spa.
  19. You will spend hours and hours and hours staring at your baby in disbelief, repeating “I can’t believe I made that.”
  20. You will have a whole new appreciation for your own mother.

The last election in Surrey wasn’t very competitive. Surrey First won the mayor’s chair and every seat on council. But it might have been a lot closer if the voters knew what these politicians were planning for after the voting was done.

Linda Hepner was elected mayor by promising to continue Dianne Watts’ legacy and a platform of hiring more police (100 new officers), expanding transit and building more recreational infrastructure. What the platform didn’t mention was tax hikes.

But now the election is over and tax hikes are at the top of Surrey First’s agenda.

For the average home, combined taxes could go up by $162 a year. Equivalent to a 10% increase.

Of course, Surrey First will claim that this isn’t all “property taxes” because it includes a proposed $100 “cultural and recreational” levy. It’s a flat fee that will be charged equally on every home in Surrey. That means the rich pay the same as the poor, and people who never use cultural or recreational facilities pay the same as people who use them all the time.

In Surrey First’s election platform, Coun. Tom Gill is quoted as saying, “Our city finances are in terrific shape, and that makes a big difference when you want to build parks, rec centres, soccer fields and swimming pools.” Funny how the finances were “terrific” before election day, but now they need a big tax grab to pay for all those parks and rec centres.

In fact, last week Gill was quoted as describing the coming budget as “unique.” It sure is unique – it’s the first budget right after an election. That means the politicians are counting that the voters in Surrey will have forgotten about it by the time the next election rolls around in 2018.

For most people, surprises in December are limited to what sort of presents are wrapped under the Christmas trees, but Surrey First has dropped a different sort of surprise on Surrey’s taxpayers.

Surrey First has dominated city hall for the last nine years, but this sort of betrayal is how dynasties begin to fall.

It’s a cliché that politicians say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. But the reason it is a cliché is that it happens all too often. For some reason we fall for it every time. But if it happens too often, voters do remember and Surrey First could learn a valuable lesson in what happens when politicians take the voters for granted.

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