Manitoba Tories say new NDP government is paying political staff higher wages

By The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government is hiring new political staff in cabinet ministers’ offices and is paying some of them more than what backbench members of the legislature make.

The NDP government, which is hiring staff after winning the Oct. 3 provincial election, is employing some people as directors of ministerial affairs at $130,000 a year. That is a different title and salary than executive assistants and special assistants who worked for ministers under the former Progressive Conservatives government. Their salaries normally ranged from $70,000 to $95,000.

The salary is also higher than the $103,000 base pay for members of the legislature. The premier, cabinet ministers, the leader of the Opposition and some others get extra money on top of that base.

Mark Rosner, chief of staff to Premier Wab Kinew, said the salaries are needed to hire people from diverse backgrounds with experience in the public and private sector.

“We want to be competitive, to attract and retain them,” Rosner said in an interview this week, adding that the staff work long hours.

“They have significant responsibilities to support ministers, to support the government, in the implementation of the government’s agenda.”

The NDP is using its own organizational structure, Rosner added, so the NDP and Tory positions are not necessarily the same. The overall cost of political staff will be “very comparable” in the end, he said.

The Opposition Tories said the final figures will take time, as the new government is still hiring, but the $130,000 salaries raise some preliminary concerns.

“I think the signal that it sends, at least early on, is that we’re going to have a lot of high-paid positions, (and) that there might be a lot of Manitobans going ‘hey, is this really value for dollars?”’ Tory deputy leader Kelvin Goertzen said.

The NDP has also been hiring communications staff in a variety of roles recently. There are several staff who respond to reporters’ requests for the premier and cabinet ministers. There is also a director of strategic communications.

There is also a director of “premier’s digital engagement,” also hired at $130,000. Their duties include, among other tasks, posting videos and messages to social media. Kinew’s TikTok account lists 65,000 followers, and his X (formerly Twitter) account has 103,000.

Rosner said social media plays a key role.

“It’s important to communicate with Manitobans in the ways that they receive and consume information, and we want to do so on platforms that they make use of,” Rosner said.

One political analyst said social media outreach can be effective, even if many followers may live in other provinces.

“A certain number of people do engage with politicians online via social media. A certain number of people do get their news from social media,” Royce Koop, who teaches political studies at the University of Manitoba, said.

“You’re hitting a particular demographic. It’s going to be younger people.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023

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