On Covering Child Minding

Update: the motion was withdrawn.

I read  that Councillor Jaimie McEvoy has brought forward a proposal that Council is considering that would allow for up to $40 a day in childcare expenses. According to that report, the move is designed, in part, to bring younger people to public office. Right now, Councillor Jonathan Cote is the only City Councillor that would benefit from this proposal but the idea is by adding this benefit into the compensation and benefits package that are offered to our elected Council, it might just be the trigger that encourages young folks to get involved.

I initially wrote a very long post about why I think this proposal misses the point. I talked about the fact that having children is a choice, and that childminding doesn’t always have to cost because family and friends will often sit for kids for traded services or because they want to spend time with their favourite grandkid or niece. I also pointed out that no one was covering my costs, and I wouldn’t think to ask my employers to do so.

But I’ve been thinking this one over and I’ve deleted the bulk of my post because the issue here isn’t about a paltry sum of money. Offering to cover a few bucks a month for an occasional babysitter only brushes the surface of a much larger problem: young people don’t view working as a City Councillor as a desirable position or a viable income. If the proposal is aimed at getting younger people into office, then let’s talk about how we do that, because $500 a year for a babysitter isn’t going to make me go running to City Hall to put my name on the ballot.

Photo by Dennis Sylvester Hurd

The compensation of a New Westminster City Councillor has been set for 2011 at $34,711.  The wage is not enough to raise a family in this city in my opinion, and relying on additional streams of income (another job or a pension) seems to be the only way it can be done. I wondered how the City came up with that number in the first place. From the City’s website:

Council’s remuneration is determined by a mathematical formula that uses remuneration data from several Metro Vancouver municipalities and economic indicators. The formula calculates a minimum and maximum increase. Historically, Council has tried to maintain an annual remuneration rate close to the Metro Vancouver average.

I’m not picking on Councillor Cote here, but as the only one who would benefit from the proposed childminding benefit, I’m going to use him as my example. It’s well known in our city that Councillor Cote works in insurance and is also going to school. I am sure it is a balancing act on his schedule to fit in family time, school, and his obligations to his two sources of income. I think many working parents struggle with time poverty; that is, never having enough time to do everything identified as needing doing. A higher wage at a single job could free up some time and make a position on City Council more attractive to younger people with families, more so than a few bucks for a babysitter. If all of what little free time you do have is taken up by the needs of public office, then public office becomes a detested chore and its attractiveness diminishes.

I think the other main contributing factor is a growing disconnection to one’s community, and to a certain degree, voter apathy. Briana blogged in 2008 regarding New Westminster’s performance at civic elections, and frankly, it’s flat out sad.  Less than 30% of us bothered to show up for the election in 2005. Yikes! I’ve lived in New Westminster for over 15 years now, having transplanted from Vancouver Island. At first, it was just a place to live and go to college.  But it wasn’t until I purposefully plugged into my community a half a dozen years ago at the age of 30 that I started caring about the development of genuine community.

I think people who jump on board to be a City Councillor are motivated, in part or in whole, by the desire to help create a better place to live and a desire to surround themselves with caring people in the community. It takes a special someone to be okay with a public life.  I know many details about our City Councillors they don’t know about me. For instance, I know where a good number of them live, where they work, what charities they support, and what assets they have. And not everyone is comfortable with such a level of transparency. You have to be committed to the cause to put yourself in that position.

Photo by Dennis Sylvester Hurd

So, what if we start actively encouraging younger people to develop a deeper sense of community? What if people graduating from high school were already plugged into New Westminster and were already volunteering their time and energy into making this a better place? What if teenagers were encouraged to have a voice in the City? What if working in the public realm is seen as worthy and desirable? Neil talked about what a hard decision it was to decide to run for Council in his recent article. How do we get young people to see the benefit of contributing to their community when they are young, rather than have an epiphany as they hit their 30s, 40s, or later?

I have two good friends that moved here from another area of the Metro Vancouver area. They bought a great condo in a great location at a relatively good price. They’ve told me time and time again they struggle to understand the long history and complicated relationships that make up the fabric of New West. There is far too much that one needs to intrinsically know in order to “get”  New Westminster. Briana talks about this in her post from August 2009 – Be Not Deterred by the Wall of Plaid.

I say, as a community, it should be our duty to represent New Westminster – both online and in real life – for what it is, what it can be, and what we want it to become.  We need to act in a positive way and be welcoming and encouraging to both new residents and young people. We need to find ways to connect with others at community events, within community groups and by using new languages and channels like Twitter and Facebook.

Those of us who already feel protective of our genuine community need not hoard it for ourselves, but should feel empowered to share it. I believe this act would change the face of City Hall more than $500.

23 Replies to “On Covering Child Minding”

  1. There are two issues here, first is how to get more younger people involved in civic issues. That's a problem at all levels government and a whole debate in itself. Obama did a pretty good job of that 3 years ago, but as we've seen, when the reality falls well short of the hype, the young will become even more disenfranchised and less likely to get involved again. I could go on, but I'll leave this debate as, if you're going to reach for the stars, make sure you actually know where to get a tall ladder from first.

    As for more people running for council, there are definitely some barriers. The first is the debate that seems to pop up every few years about if we want full time councillors like Vancouver or if we want to keep it a part time job. We more or less expect our elected officials to put in a full time number of hours, if not more, but then don't remunerate them for such. You either have to be independently wealthy or retired to put as much in to the position as it deserves. And trying to do so while raising a young family, I honestly don't know how Jonathan does it, he is a superstar in my books.

    But the other half, which I would argue is more significant, is the lost career building time. I remember when I was recruiting candidates for the 2005 provincial election I had one resign because he was worried about what it would mean for his long term career being away from it for 4 years. And at least at the Federal and Provincial level there's legislation protecting workers who take a leave of absence to serve in public office, there is no such legislation for municipal politicians.

    If New West were to join Vancouver in having full time councillors it would become an even harder choice for potential candidates, you would have to quit your career for 3, 6 or 9 years (I won't say 12, term limits anyone…?). You would then have to transition yourself back in to the workforce having lost that career building time and having skills that would likely need updating. And again, missing from the municipal level is any kind of severance/retraining fund to help transition these people who gave up their time and careers to serve the public. Agree with different politicians' policies or not, you have to give them credit for being willing to give their time in public service, that has to be worth something.

    We really need to figure out, what do we want from our politicians? What kind of people do we want to attract? And what kind of policy changes, beyond $500/year for babysitting, will it take to attract good and diverse talent?

    1. Matt, we all know you a aspiring politician, so it's no surprise you, like others put this spotlight on what must be overwhelmingly brutal demands of ones life ! And now you want the position to be full time !

      Oh Paaleeeessseee !

    2. > missing from the municipal level is any kind of severance/retraining fund to help transition these people who gave up their time and careers to serve the public

      "The Mayor and Council will be entitled to a separation allowance upon completion of their term(s) in office equivalent to ten percent of their annual indemnity for each year of service", according to the city website (http://www.newwestcity.ca/database/rte/Council_Remuneration_Policy.pdf). I'd say that a NW councilor should be able to get training to compensate for being out of the workforce for a 3-year term with that $100,000.

  2. Generally speaking, the compensation city councillors receive is not viewed as a salary. Being mayor in most municipalities is considered a full-time position and is compensated as such. Being a city councillor is not viewed as a full-time job in most municipalities.
    Ideally, the amount of compensation councillors receive is enough to encourage civic-minded people to run, but not enough to get a bunch of people running who are attracted mainly by the money.
    I don't think those serving in any public office should be out-of-pocket for any expenses incurred while they carry out their duties, so covering childcare expenses makes sense to me.

    1. But why should someone in public office be compensated for a babysitter, but not, say, someone who does a particular job that also benefits a community that requires them to be working at odd hours? Say, someone who operates a tourist attraction or perhaps the Translink staff who run the UBE open houses (not that I know whether Translink does compensate for this). I do get it that the job is part time – but the hours are odd and I don't think there is a lot of room to be "off duty" if you aren't at home. For example, Councillor McIntosh came to the farmers market, as she normally does, this past Saturday. She was there to do shopping, but she happily spent time speaking to people who recognize her about issues that are going on. I doubt she gets paid for that specific sort of work, but there is an expectation she represent the City when out and about. Now you've got me thinking, Sheila, that perhaps mine isn't a question about compensation… but more of a question of what exactly the job entails.

      1. Jen, what about all the citizens who volunteer their time to be on City Committees ? The have an equal responsibility to listen to the citizens of their local areas to bring those community issues to the table so they can properly advise our council on specific matters. These people are all unpaid, the only benefit is the pop's and sandwiches the city doles out. I imagine their are several people on these committee's that have children that require babysitting. What about them ? If anyone should, it should be the ones who receive no compensation for their time or duty.

        1. It is a great question, Rick, I agree with Sheila. Many people elect to volunteer their time because volunteering gives them other benefits such as a feeling of well being or contributing to a good cause. Speaking from personal experience, the volunteering I have done was done because I got something out of it on a personal level. I was once asked to take part in a focus group (for a non profit) and was offered free childminding as a "perk" and a thank you of my time. I wouldn't have accepted it because I didn't know who the childminder was. However, had they offered to give me $30 for a babysitter I probably would have accepted it but I certainly wouldn't have said "no" to the focus group if compensation wasn't covered.

          That said, I would like to think that when one signs on for something, one understands there is an obligation for certain work – that is, the volunteers know what they are getting into when they applied to be on city committees because the hours are clear and the responsibilities are well documented.

          This is also kind of silly, but someone pointed this out to me when I was discussing my thoughts about this. What about people who don't/can't have kids, but instead have a pet? Would they be reimbursed for petsitting if they had to go to a conference for the weekend?

      2. Good question. I guess it all depends on whether or not you view being a city councillor as a job or not. I don't. I view it as a volunteer position that is not full-time. (I realize some councillors may spend full-time hours on it, but to some degree, that is up to each individual councillor.)
        Councillors' travel and other expenses are reimbursed. Given that other expenses are covered, I would say, go ahead and cover child care too, (subject to whatever rules other expenses have). I'd say child care, along with other expenses, should be covered because you don't want volunteers to be out-of-pocket for expenses. You don't want to throw up a barrier to people who may otherwise want to serve their communities.
        Incidentally, I have worked for employers who did cover child care in some circumstances. (Not during regular business hours, but if it was required when I was travelling or taking a course.)

        1. "I view it as a volunteer position" – That you are nominated for, run a campaign backed with bucks, and hope to hell the people "volunteer" to mark an X beside your name !

  3. Huh ?

    Our councilors are part time positions, they only have to show up once a week for work. They're totally overcompensated. They're fondled and lubricated by all sorts of parties to "see things" a certain way. Now to go about suggesting the youth take up the challenge is hilarious. The youth pumped out of the public education system are detached from society and self absorbed. It takes them post secondary education and another dozen years before they care about the place they live. (wait, thats what she said !?!)

    Just look at that marching band picture. They really look thrilled and excited to have the privileged to take part in that event don't they.

    I've said it before, the position should be paid at the hourly rate of our minimum wage. They want to have kids, they can pay for it. Most companies don't give bonuses to employees because they got knocked up, and created an additional financial burden, why should these publicly elected officials keep getting more while we keep getting less ?

    1. It's not how often you show up to work. The number of hours worked should define the compensation.

      There are societal benefits to people having kids. You sound like one of those right-wing Americans who want to disband public schools, and return to the age of the capitalist robber-baron. If people don't have kids, those corporations won't have someone to work for them.

      An $8 dollar-per-hour applicant an hour job attracts an $8 dollar-per-hour applicant. I think what you are saying is that you don't value what city hall does. Why not move to some small unincorporated town (preferably without internet access), and then you can be a voice in the wilderness.

      I have no idea how old you are, but I find it delightful to read that youth are "detached from society and self absorbed" in your detached and self-absorbed post.

      1. "The number of hours worked should define the compensation. " – Couldn't disagree more. I have no problem with a councilor punching the clock. But because one councilor works twice as hard as another councilor shouldn't mean the harder working councilor should receive a higher rate of pay ?

        "There are societal benefits to people having kids" – I couldn't agree more. Without kids society would get old and die. The problem is parents are equally self absorbed and detached. Hence the voter apathy. Oh, and you might want to take note of our immigration, it's due to the fact that our western "society" doesn't value children. Evident in our decaying school infrastructures, and poor educators.

        "An $8 dollar-per-hour applicant an hour job attracts an $8 dollar-per-hour applicant." – this is somewhat true. The point you seem to miss, is that the position is through ELECTION. No one gets nominated to work at subway, you apply to work there and the BOSS MAN decides.

        I have no idea how old you are, but I find it delightful to read that you are detached from reality, self absorbed in your values in the wilderness.

  4. Jen,
    Now you have blogged on Jaimie's Motion to "have councillors daycare paid for" you can now write on the fact it was overwhelmingly rejected, even by himself, removing the motion due to mass public objection. He recognized the will of the majority and graciously bowed out to save his political ass. It was a good pre vote interview on CTV as was the response from the people on the street.
    I do not agree with your reasoning behind why young professionals are unable to enter into politics.
    I have studied New West politics for for 30 years and it is not the plaid and green jackets (I think you refer to successful business and accomplished citizens who happen to work hard through Hyack to bring many benefits to the city) that dominate politics. You should understand this concept as it is similar to the hard work and success you have brought to RCFM.

    1. John, I'm not referring to the Hyack Festival Association volunteers (who are fantastic) and I'm also not referring to politics specifically when I mentioned the "Wall of Plaid" that Briana talks about. If you read the post of Briana's I linked to, I'm talking about how there is so much history and connectedness in the city, that new people sometimes have a hard time inserting themselves into and understanding how the city works and how people live and find enjoyment. For example, I didn't know for 4 years that there even was a resident's association! Sure it's on the City's website, but not many newbies will read every single page on the City's website out of general interest, instead they will use it as a resource for specific topics. For a number of years I didn't know there was neighbourhood garage sales, for example. Or where exactly Glenbrook North was. That sort of stuff. These are things that locals "know" but new residents may not.

      And, to be clear, Councillor McEvoy's motion was not to cover daycare. It was to cover occasional babysitting. There's a huge difference in the two terms. When I hear the word "daycare" that means care for my child every day. Daycare couldn't come close to being covered for $500 a month, let alone a year.

      1. Jen,
        $500 is a seed planted.. History has it that it would not suffice for long. Soon it would be $1000 and then extended to staff as well. Sorry!
        By the way, seriously, I am looking for a "Dog & House sitter" for 2 nights. $100. Know anyone?

  5. The political divide in this city is not young professionals vs older and proven professionals, it is a divide between free enterprisers and socialists. Free enterprises pay there own way while socialists like to have their way paid. Thus the free daycare and Fair living wage policy..
    I think current councilors make less than minimum wage for time spent, however, each one has other employment or occupations to lean on for benefits. . As long as this city council is dominated by socialists, status quo will remain for another 30 years. Times are a changin……

    1. "I think current councilors make less than minimum wage for time spent," – yeah right.

      A full time job is 40 hours a week, 50 weeks of the year with 2 weeks holiday which grosses you $16,640 year at a rate of $8 . The councilors remuneration is currently pegged at just under 35k a year.

      You and your camp are suggesting councilors work in excess of 84 hours a week with such a statement. Utter nonsense.

      1. And of course "one third of every payment authorized by this policy is to be paid as a tax-free, non-accountable allowance for expenses" and "The Mayor and Council will be entitled to a separation allowance upon completion of their term(s) in office equivalent to ten percent of their annual indemnity for each year of service", plus they get health and dental benefits.

      2. Rick,
        Obviously you are not on top of hours involved in attending city business and REQUIRED social functions of every community group in this City. With committee meeting etc. time far exceeds 40 hours per week. Also, keep in mind the additional personal cost of attending functions where the city does not pay, often not only for the councilors, but for their spouse which are many times expected to accompany them.
        I think it's time for you shake and wake. You are out of touch with reality. I know abiut me but not sure who my camp is.

        1. How does Councilor Cote pull off such a workload, with only 24 hours in the day John ?

          In fact John, I am very on-top of things going on in the city including committee meetings and board meetings which occur only ONCE a month. So how you derive 40 hours a week is still beyond my reasoning, and at that rate, they would be making $16 hour, which is double the current minimum wage.

          Shake and Wake ? I am out of touch with reality ? HA ! It's not my fault you can't do simple arithmetic.

    2. John, I wish I could see the world in such black and white. I humbly suggest there is not a sharp line between Marxist Socialism and Adam Smith Libertarianism (or “Free Enterprise” as it is sometimes falsely labeled), but a very diffuse continuum, and 99% of the people in the world, and in this City, are somewhere within that continuum.

      I also suggest that in 21st Century Canada, “free enterprise” does not pay its own way, but relies on both direct subsidies from governments, and indirect subsidies such as socialized health care (which reduces employment costs), EI (which provides a secure, ready labor force), public education (which trains the labour force), taxpayer-funded transportation infrastructure (to move their goods about), policing, fire protection, etc. etc. etc. Conversely, the central tenant of socialism is that the worker has access to the proceeds of his labour, which is pretty far from having their way paid.

  6. I do not support taxpayers footing the bill for babysitting services, occasional or otherwise of members in office. Few and far between does any employment come with benefits such as child care and even the lucky few who have this benefit pay something toward the cost.

    Something to remember is that while councilors make a modest salary, they also receive remuneration in the amount of 1/3 of their salary, tax free for expenses in ADDITION to their salary. That works out to be just under $10,500. If your base salary is $40,000 in your day job and you work as a councilor earning $34,711 with a $10,500 tax free expense account, you're not exactly hurting financially. Also, being a councilor is a part time job and while some go above and beyond the call of office, it cannot be said that this is a general rule.

    On the subject of encouraging younger people to enter municipal, Provincial or Federal politics – it really depends on the individual and often age is a factor of one's life and work experience. I think our city could do more to encourage participation amongst the 20 and 30 somethings but I'm not sure how I feel about a twenty-something making decisions that affect the city in which I live. I recognize that today's youth are politically savvy, intelligent and are leading the way to the future, but hink back to your twenties and ask yourself, could you have taken a position in office and done well?

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