By Mischa Popoff
In Canada we have a strange tradition of "spreading the wealth around." Provinces are divided into "Have" and "Have-Not" categories, and the federal government redistributes wealth from the Haves to the Have-Nots. Aren't you glad you're an American?
But hold on. It gets worse.
Sometimes, when politicians in a province think they're not getting enough redistributed wealth from the feds, their premier (equivalent to your state governor) will move heaven and earth to get a better deal. Such is the case right now, as the premier of the province of British Columbia (B.C.) is using every phony environmental concern in the book to stop a pipeline from running across her turf that would carry crude oil from the oil sands of Alberta to a port where it could then be shipped to China.
You'll recall how President Obama used phony environmental concerns to forestall the Keystone Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta down to refineries in Texas. When it became obvious to our prime minister (the equivalent of your president) that Obama wasn't going to budge on Keystone, he wisely approached the premiers of B.C. and Alberta to see if they could work out a deal to get that crude to China instead. And everyone in Canada was very pleased with this idea because, as explained, the wealth that would accrue to Alberta would be spread around nicely and evenly all across the land.
All was going well until one fine day, when the premier of B.C., Christy Clark, got it into her head that she needed to hold out for more money. To heck with the rest of Canada! And Alberta.
Clark is predicting all sorts of disasters that could occur if a pipeline running across her province were to spring a leak. But I can guarantee you it's all just a bunch of trumped-up, phony-baloney environmental posturing, because after all, she's stating pretty clearly that more money will solve the problem.
No...not more money to ensure that the pipeline won't burst, or more money in some sort of environmental-protection contingency fund that could be drawn upon at such time as there is a leak. No, silly -- Premier Clark simply wants more money in her general-revenue coffers so she can spend it right away, and hopefully get herself re-elected.
So if Clark doesn't really care about the environment, what, pray tell, does she plan to spend this money on? Ah...now this is something that you as an American might be able to relate to, especially if you live in a state like California, where public-service pensions are poised to bankrupt your whole state.
Start by wrapping your brain around the fact that 750 public-sector employees in the province of B.C. earn more than $200,000 a year, with top wages approaching a cool million! And they're all in line to receive gold-plated, indexed pensions, with full benefits, 'til the day they, or their spouses, die.
If they all retired right now, they'd drain over $200 million per annum out of the province's treasury (which is empty, by the way) in exchange for doing nothing. That's $200 million a year for just 750 people -- barely enough to fill a high-school gymnasium shoulder to shoulder. And the rest of us have to pay for that.
But these people must be the exceptions to the rule. Right? La crème de la crème of the province's public sector? Surely most civil servants in B.C. earn more modest wages, something in the neighborhood of a teacher's starting salary of just $47,000. Right?
With a population of just under four and a half million, we've got a whopping head-count of over 64,000 public servants in this classic left-coast province. This means that about one and a half percent of our total population -- counting every man, woman, and child -- works for the provincial government. That's more than three percent of our entire workforce! And it's not where these public servants start in terms of salary that matters; it's where they end up just before they retire that costs us.
Believe it or not, teachers in this province earn $74,000 a year after just eight years on the job. (And I'll bet you thought Governor Chris Christie had problems with teachers in New Jersey.) And that's assuming a teacher has only a basic education degree. If she holds a second degree, a master's or Ph.D., she receives more...much more. And no matter how many degrees a teacher holds, they all get steady annual raises until they retire, at which point they start getting 70% of their salary, or more, plus all benefits, indexed to inflation, for the rest of their or their spouses' lives.
Get out your calculator.
A single teacher can easily cost this province as much as $2 million while working, and another $3 million in retirement! Add those numbers together, then multiply by 64,000, and you'll begin to see what's motivating Clark to use what amounts to nothing more than environmental blackmail to get a bigger share of the deal from Alberta. You know...the province where all the oil is actually located.
Never mind that this province's current debt is hovering around an unsettling $51 billion -- more than $11,000 for every man, woman and child. We're on the hook to dish out over $320 billion (that's $320,000,000,000) over the next few decades in retirement benefits!
Somehow, I don't think tourism (B.C.'s last remaining "resource" after the near-total shutdown of our mining, lumber, and fishing industries) is going to cover it. And so, Clark will use any tactic she can in order to get a bigger share of Alberta's wealth so that she might, in Barack Obama's resplendently socialist words, "spread it around" to her civil servants.
Never mind that this province's public sector currently costs taxpayers more than $3 billion across 90 largely useless government agencies.
Never mind that public-sector wages and benefits far exceed anything you'll ever get in the private sector.
Never mind that public-sector employees work shorter hours and retire earlier than anyone in the private sector.
And last but not least, never mind that the private sector generates wealth while the public sector does not, and cannot. In fact, if anything, the public sector absorbs wealth, like Bounty paper towels absorb a juice spill on your kitchen floor.
Yeah, never mind all that. The big hit to this province's treasury (which again, I remind you, is empty) is yet to come.
Historically, in both the United States and Canada, only military personnel qualified for government pensions. They had, after all, served the rest of us in a most literal sense. Politicians left whatever they were doing in the private sector to actually "serve" in public office. And public-sector employees gave up the highs and lows of private-sector employment in exchange for job security.
But today, thanks to a perverse laxity in negotiating with public-sector unions by politicians who receive campaign contributions from those same unions, we now watch as teachers work less than 190 days a year and as public servants in general take full retirement after pushing paper for just a quarter-century, or less. No wonder FDR was dead-set opposed to unions in the public sector.
No wonder Clark has her eye on Alberta's pie. And the sad part is that even if she gets her way, it still won't be enough.
Mischa Popoff is a policy adviser for The Heartland Institute and a research associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is also is a freelance political writer with a degree in history.