Last week Lakes District News published the remuneration of Village of Burns Lake staff as well as council. This week, we are publishing wages of some employees of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako.
British Columbia’s financial information act requires that all public sector corporations in B.C. – including its municipalities and regional districts – file annual statements of financial information. They are required by law to release individual wages of employees who earn over $75,000.
The reason newspapers publish these wages is not to be sensationalist, but to keep governments – even at the local level – accountable.
Taxpayers are paying for the wages and travel expenses of politicians, as well as municipal and regional staff, so it’s only fair that the public is aware of how much they are getting paid.
One thing I hope readers are aware of is that just because we are publishing wages, it does not mean that these wages are not reasonable. We publish them simply because we believe the public has the right to know.
In cases where considerable and unexpected increases have taken place, governments need to be questioned – by both the public and the media.
This is one of the main reasons why the media is so important. It not only gives people who have been treated unfairly a voice and educates the public about important issues, but it keeps governments accountable.
I am very excited to be working in Canada because here – even at the local level – governments understand the need for transparency. At the same time, the public is aware that their taxes pay for politicians’ wages and the projects that they decide upon. This awareness is essential in a healthy democracy and is part of why Canada has been so successful over the years.
For this same reason, Lakes District News has also been trying to publish wages of the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF).
The new management of the BLCF say they’ve made it a priority to be transparent and to rebuild trust in the community.
In fact, part of the BLCF’s vision statement is “ensuring the public and stakeholders are provided with opportunities for input into how the community forest is managed in an open and transparent manner.”
Most people would assume that part of doing business in an open and transparent manner would include being transparent about wages.
Last week, Lakes District News asked BLCF for wages that were over $75,000. That information was not granted.
All we were told was that “compensation is consistent with industry standard rates, and is based on the size of the company, the gross sales of the company, experience level and professional designation of staff.”
In 2012, Lakes District News had no choice but to file a freedom of information request in order to have access to that information from the Burns Lake Community Forest.
We believe transparency is key to gaining the public’s trust.