POLITICS

Money for nothing: Alberta Premier Redford suspends Tory committee pay

03/12/2012 02:25 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford has cut the pay of her Progressive Conservative colleagues following a revelation last week that hundreds of thousands of dollars are being paid to politicians on a committee that doesn't meet.

Redford announced Monday that committee pay for all Tory members would be suspended pending a review of the pay structure.

"For the last several days, Albertans have expressed their concerns about MLAs receiving pay for sitting on a committee that did not hold meetings," said Redford in a news release.

"Albertans are right on this issue."

The committee pay review, to be carried out by Speaker Ken Kowalski, is on top of another investigation by former Supreme Court justice John Major. He is looking at the overall pay package for Alberta politicians, which is among the most lucrative in Canada.

The Wildrose Party accused Redford of hypocrisy for cutting pay for her colleagues while keeping the 30 to 34 per cent increase she and the rest of former Ed Stelmach's cabinet voted themselves after their 2008 election win.

"Given you seem so happy to throw your caucus colleagues and their paycheques under the bus, surely you're willing to show some real-life leadership and roll back your own salary," Wildrose critic Rob Anderson challenged Redford during question period.

Redford did not commit to it, but said she'll wait for the results of the Major report, which is expected by the end of April.

She said thoughtful and considered results from Major are what's needed rather than ad hoc changes.

"We have a confusing system that doesn't allow Albertans to understand what a transparent and open process looks like with respect to MLA compensation," Redford told the house.

The pay cut came five days after the Canadian Taxpayers Federation announced its annual tongue-in-cheek Teddy Awards for extravagant waste of taxpayer dollars. The lobby group singled out Alberta's standing committee on privileges and elections, standing orders and printing.

Each of the committee's 21 members has been receiving $1,000 a month, even though the committee hasn't met in more than three years.

It's the largest committee in the legislature and includes representatives from the Tories, all four opposition parties and Independent Lloyd Snelgrove.

The federation estimates the cost of the committee is $261,000 a year. Members used to be paid each time they met, but in 2008 it was changed to a flat monthly stipend.

Each party has responded in different ways.

Liberal David Swann has already said he donates the money from that committee to charity or to his party.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said he will repay the money he made while sitting on the committee, as will Wildrose members Guy Boutilier and Heather Forsyth. The move will cost Boutilier about $4,000 and Forsyth $40,000.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said colleague Rachel Notley will not accept future payments from the committee but will not return monies already paid out.

Mason said total pay for all committee work is capped at $3,500 and, given the number of other committees Notley sits on formally and informally with or without pay, it's a wash.

"If she (Notley) wasn't on that committee she would still be entitled to the pay she receives because of other committee work," he said.

The move comes as Redford gets set in the next two weeks to drop the writ on a general election.

Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose, said her party wouldn't wait for Major's report but would change the pay structure immediately.

She said the Wildrose would implement a single, fully taxable salary with no committee pay. The party would also reduce salaries by five per cent and roll back the transition allowance.

"We think politicians need to take leadership on this issue," said Smith.

"We don't believe we need to wait to hear from a judge to hear what the right thing to do is."

Alberta politicians take home an average $163,000 a year. Cabinet ministers start at $177,000, and the premier is at $201,000.

In 2011, Stelmach topped the total pay list at $221,438, while Tory backbencher Ken Allred brought up the rear at $129,734.

Major is also reviewing transition allowances, which will see Kowalski take home $1.3 million when he retires prior to the election call.