The Pallister government is looking to cap the compensation of executives throughout the public service.
The limits would apply to executives of Crown corporations, universities, colleges, health authorities, school boards, and all other entities covered under the province's broad budgetary process.
"We want to make sure there's consistency with what executives are being paid, and it's respectful to taxpayers," Finance Minister Scott Fielding said Wednesday, after introducing a bill to implement the measure in the Manitoba legislature.
Fielding said the government would hire a private consultant to meet with the affected entities to determine what appropriate compensation levels should be.
Once the legislation is in force, compensation ranges would be set by cabinet order.
Bill 18 defines "compensation" broadly. In addition to salary, it includes, "without limitation," such elements as retainers, benefits, bonuses, allowances, travelling and living expenses, honorariums, and severance pay.
There are provisions in the bill to claw back overpayments to executives. If the government entity fails to comply, its funding can be reduced by the equivalent amount.
For existing executives, they and their employers will have two years to bring themselves in compliance with the law once it takes effect.
Opposition politicians were quick to condemn the proposed legislation Wednesday.
NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw said the Tory government led by Premier Brian Pallister appears bent on "demonizing civil servants and creating scapegoats."
"If the government is prepared to (cap compensation) in the public sector, they should also do it in the private sector, and it should be a fair and equal system," he said.
"If (Fielding) is prepared to cap outrageous CEO salaries, then let's have that discussion. But if this is simply an attack on hard-working public servants... and trying to be divisive, then I don't think this helps Manitobans," the former Winnipeg School Division chairman said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said public-sector executive salaries should be negotiated, not imposed.
"You have to deal with people respectfully, and I don't think this sounds respectful in the least," he said.
High salaries may be warranted in certain instances, Lamont said, if there are few persons with a particular set of qualifications and they carry huge responsibilities. "This seems to be another example of overreach on the part of the government in trying to control everything."
The proposed legislation allows the finance minister to exempt a public-sector employer or an executive from some of its provisions — and to set out the conditions for the exemption.
Fielding would not say if the government was responding to a concern in a particular sector in drafting the bill.
However, earlier this year, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen called out the high salaries paid to Winnipeg School Division administrative staff.
Fielding emphasized Bill 18 would not apply to average workers. "This has nothing to do with anyone who is part of a collective agreement," he said.
The proposed legislation allows for executives to be promoted, receive salary increment increases or be reclassified, as long as it occurs within the "established compensation framework" approved by government.
The proposed Public Sector Executive Compensation Act is part of a larger bill that amends various provincial statutes.
One of the sections of Bill 18 would allow the cabinet to establish regulations setting out financial reporting requirements for the City of Winnipeg and other municipalities.
Fielding said the government's intent is to align municipal accounting practices with those of the province.
He said this will help both levels of government with budgeting processes and help avoid confusion over expectations between the two.
Fielding said the bill would allow for a technical working group of provincial and municipal accountants to come up with recommended changes.
The minister emphasized the government has made no decisions ahead of this process. "I want to be perfectly clear: no policy has been implemented on this," he said.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.