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June 1, 2013

The price of democracy: $177.25/mo

Yesterday, the House of Assembly Management Committee, which sets the rules for MLA expenses, passed up an opportunity to affirm democratic rights for up to 28,000* Nova Scotians who use wheelchairs.  

The HAMC was presented with a plan for requiring constituency offices to meet the barrier-free standards of the province's own building code.  Timed to coincide with the upcoming election and the expected large turnover, the proposal also made the case for renovating existing offices, with landlords recapturing the costs in increased rent.

Alas, the price of democracy was too high for the HAMC, which decided further study was needed.

Chris d'Entremont, Progressive Conservative MLA for Argyle, says he has been searching for accessible office space for 10 years.  He pays $1,182.44 a month to rent his constituency office, which has a gravel driveway, a step at the entrance and no accessible washroom.  Becky Kent, Cole Harbour/Eastern Passage pays $1,130.44 for slightly more accessible space.

In ten years, that totals $141,892.80 transferred from the taxpayer to Vaughne Holdings, d'Entremont's landlord.  A tidy and reliable income.

Assuming $69.99 for a portable ramp is too much of an expense for d'Entremont, let's do a hypothetical.  I don't have a picture, but let's figure he has 3 steps for a total of 20 inches.  That would require a 20 foot ramp.  Here's a spiffy one for $1682.00 US.

For an accessible bathroom renovation Fixr.com reports:
  • To do a bathroom "update" which replaces the tub, toilet, vanity, and flooring would cost approximately $9,020. 
  • This pricing structure assumes that carpenters charge an average of $70 per hour, electricians between $65 to $85 per hour, and plumbers between $45 and $65 per hour.  (Hmmm)
d'Entremont doesn't need the bathtub, but we'll let him have it.  36" doors are a must.  One outside door, and one inside for the washroom.  This handy guide says they can be done for under $1000 each.  

2" asphalt paving is $1.80/sq ft.  Guessing the driveway is 100' long and 15' wide, that's $2700.

So the total cost of democracy is $15,402.  At a usurious 6.8% a ten year loan will run $177.25 a month, with cumulative payment of $21.269.44

Who should bear that expense?  The landlord?  So Vaughne Holdings would get $120,622.56, some writeoffs, an accessible space, and a 10 year tenant.  They'd be dumb not to do it.

The taxpayer?  In the last six months we paid d'Entremont's cell phone bill, averaging $229.16, most of which immediately leaves the province.  The $177.25 would mostly stay in Tusket and serve the good people there.  Taxpayers can afford it, landlords can afford it - just make a rule, willya?

By the way, since d'Entremont lives so far away, he gets $1285/mo to rent an apartment at Garrison Watch.  We taxpayers pay for that because we want him to do a good job representing his constituents.  You'd think it might be worth a tenth that amount to get to know all his constituents.

Chris!  We're generous to you, be generous to us.

Gus Reed

*based on a 2006 survey by Statistics Canada

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