Donaldson: Province needs better negotiation skills

Imagine negotiating a 20-year contract for labour services and signing it before nailing down pay increases in the first few years.

Imagine negotiating a 20-year contract for labour services and signing it before nailing down pay increases in the first few years.

Sound implausible?

Not with the current BC government. It appears this is what transpired with the 20-year RCMP contract the BC Liberals signed with the federal government on March 21.

Only after the federal budget came out March 29 did the three-year, 5.25 per cent pay increase come to light, catching the provincial government and BC mayors by surprise earlier this month.

Solicitor General Shirley Bond said she was “caught off guard.”

This is very surprising after a year of negotiations where there was ample time to ask questions about pay raises.

One would think with Premier Clark’s policy of a 0-0-0 provincial government public service salary increase mandate over three years the question of what kind of increase the federal government had in mind for the RCMP would be asked.

BC mayors reacted with shock to the news as it has a direct impact on municipal budgets for 2012/13.

Mayors said they were “blindsided” by the announcement and no wonder.

For Surrey it means an extra $6 − 8 million in costs. Stikine is not immune from the impact.

For Smithers, with a population just over 5,000, there will likely be increased direct salary costs and an impact on the overall provincial budget for funding policing in rural areas as well.

The issue isn’t if the RCMP deserve a wage increase approximately in line with inflationary costs.

It is why Minister Bond and the Premier did not direct negotiators to determine this basic piece of information during contract discussions.

Or maybe they did and decided not to release the information.  Bond later said the wage increases exceeded what she was led to believe.

So wage increases were anticipated but not communicated?

Whether it is a matter of incompetence or lack of transparency, the bungled negotiations regarding pay raises in a 20-year contract does not inspire confidence for other deals this government could be attempting to sign.

Of greatest concern are negotiations with other levels of government in Canada that aren’t necessarily more understanding, although the financial impacts of federal Conservative legislation on crime and health funding policies could be crippling for our provincial budget.

This recent display of a lack of negotiating competence by the BC government is very worrisome when it comes to an even bigger arena for the province like agreements Premier Clark and her cabinet may be attempting on an international basis with mining, gas and forestry resources at the core.

For the north the full benefit from any international deal, we need a government that pays more attention to the details and is committed to transparency with the public.

After all, we own what is being dealt away.

Doug Donaldson

MLA, Stikine