Side gig, or steel trap? - The Orca
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Side gig, or steel trap?

Maclean Kay
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Maclean Kay on Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, and politicians having second jobs.

Let’s talk about politics, government, and side jobs.

The first thing you need to understand is there are no sure things, and longevity is the exception, not the rule. In this realm, jobs you can depend on for a career and to raise a family simply don’t exist. For every Mike Farnworth – MLA for all but one term since 1991 – there are several Gwen O’Mahonys, whose provincial career lasted almost exactly a year.

So you can understand why some politicians would be extremely reluctant to surrender a stable, lucrative job – and why it’s important to allow that, especially at the municipal and regional level. You can’t attract good people if it means a major financial penalty, or restricting the field to careerists and the independently wealthy.

So why does anyone run for office? For many, public service is a calling. Yes, it’s a cliché, but only because it’s largely true. That said, only Pollyanna would fail to notice politics and government is also a springboard. A tour of duty in one level has often been a stepping stone to the next level up, or to a more lucrative position or career elsewhere.

Again – this is not a bad thing.

That brings us to Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West. This week, the salary of his other full-time job as a Communications and Political Action Coordinator for the district office of the United Steelworkers, was made public.

For the reasons above, my initial reaction to learning West had a second job was to shrug. Nor did the salary much faze me; West is obviously a talent, and seems (from afar) to have mostly done a good job as mayor, notably holding the line on property taxes.

My initial reaction to learning West had a second job was to shrug.

So, good for him. But the more you look at this particular situation, the more your eyebrow goes up.

For one thing, it’s not a side gig, but explicitly a full-time job. It’s possible to do two full-time jobs, though not indefinitely, unless he’s superhuman. But it’s increasingly common to have more than one project or job, and if he can handle the workload, fine. No problem here.

Second, it is rather a lot of money. West’s salary as mayor is more than $135,000. His job with the steelworkers is almost that again, essentially doubling his annual income to north of $267,000. That’s three times the average household income in his Port Coquitlam.

It’s unfortunate that details only emerged from US tax documents.

This is not, in any way, a sin. But being indisputably among the one per cent also inevitably undermines claims to be a regular guy – just ask Andrew Wilkinson. (As a side note, I envy any organization that can afford regional coordinators that pay six figures. And in American dollars.)

Third, the way we learned. I think West would agree, it’s unfortunate that details only emerged from US tax documents. His extracurricular salary may not be anybody’s business, but if it was going to emerge, far better to have disclosed it himself.

Fourth, whatever their merits and faults, the Steelworkers are a very political union, whose main competition comes from China. West has largely built his provincial reputation on objecting to China sponsoring events at UBCM – rightly, in my view, but now in retrospect, more may wonder if West’s indignation was genuine, or prompted.

Finally, and to me the biggest problem, lobbying. His second job isn’t a consultancy, or something anodyne like owning a pharmacy or W.A.C. Bennett’s neighbourhood hardware store. West’s job description includes lobbying, which raises questions of conflict – it’s hard to imagine a way to arrange more direct access for a lobbyist than to also hold elected office.

West’s job with the Steelworkers does not magically erase his accomplishments, or mean he’s retroactively a bad mayor.

West adamantly denies that’s part of his job, but the listed description is very specific. Again, this doesn’t mean West isn’t telling the truth – but there’s no getting around that the document says otherwise. At the very least, there’s a discrepancy, and you wonder how much benefit of the doubt other public figures would get here.

Okay, that’s a lot. It’s important to underline the following: West’s job with the Steelworkers does not magically erase his accomplishments, or mean that he’s retroactively a bad mayor. His salary doesn’t mean he can’t relate to working people. Nor does this necessarily mean he was wrong to object to China sponsoring events at UBCM, or even that he was right for the wrong reason.

The big problem is lobbying. Either the job description is wrong (or outdated), or West has been doing unregistered lobbying – and now, lied about it. The former is more likely, because it’s a simpler explanation, and I have a hard time believing he could be quite that dumb.

If he’s not lobbying, he will want his employer (and here I mean the Steelworkers) to revise the job description and correct the discrepancy. As his career continues (and here I mean in government and politics), one hopes he will give colleagues and opponents the same benefit of the doubt he’s asking for today.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca

SWIM ON:

  • Maclean Kay on what the legislature needs to tackle when (and before) it comes back in June.
  • Mayor West has been mentioned in these (virtual) pages before, notably on UnSpun with Jody Vance and George Affleck. Here’s one example.
  • Everybody is struggling with the pandemic and restrictions in different, personal ways. Doug Firby suggests instead of shaming, try offering to help instead.
SWIM ON