EDMONTON - Alberta's legislature resumes Wednesday for a brief sitting that will see the government OK a new pay deal for politicians, but reject a recommendation to drastically hike Premier Alison Redford's salary.
Government house leader Dave Hancock says Redford has already made it clear she won't accept a recommendation to hike her annual pay from $200,000 to $335,000 within two years.
"I think everybody agrees that's too high, too much of an increase," Hancock told reporters Tuesday.
That recommendation was one of many made earlier this month in a report by retired Supreme Court Justice John Major.
Hancock said the government will proceed with almost all of the rest of Major's recommendations including:
— A base salary of $134,000 for all 87 legislature members, with a $67,000 salary bump for cabinet members, the Speaker and Official Opposition leader.
— A cap on the transition allowance to a maximum one year's pay; the old formula had no ceiling.
— No extra pay for politicians sitting on committees, though cabinet chairpersons would get $200 per meeting.
— An end to the yearly RRSP allowance but implementation of a defined pension plan for MLAs.
— A panel of three judges to be asked to review the compensation rules every four years.
Hancock said while Major recommends more than a quarter of the base salary be kept tax-free, the government will move instead to make the whole $134,000 taxable.
Hancock said that's the message they've heard from Albertans.
The new pay rules will see the politicians earn slightly less than what they are now, but Shayne Saskiw of the opposition Wildrose party says any benefit to taxpayers will be wiped out by the cost of a defined pension benefit plan.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates there is still $42 million in unfunded pension liabilities from the previous MLA pension program, scrapped by former premier Ralph Klein in 1993.
"We're definitely going to be opposing any type of defined benefit pension plan," said Saskiw, the deputy house leader.
"They're archaic. They're not done anymore."
"It's a way to create an unfunded liability that always ends up hurting taxpayers."
Alberta politicians take home an average $163,000 a year. Cabinet ministers start at $177,000.
The premier is at $201,000, the highest among the premiers.
Major had been asked by Redford to examine the compensation deal for Alberta MLAs amidst criticism the system was too convoluted to understand and too lavish for the work being done.
Earlier this year, for example, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation revealed that some government MLAs had been collecting $1,000 a month to sit for years on a committee that never met.
It became such a heated issue for Redford's Tories during last month's provincial election campaign that she publicly ordered her government members to pay the money back or face exclusion from caucus.
The Tories were also criticized for creating a transition allowance for retiring politicians that had become so lavish, more than $15 million was paid out after the last election. Speaker Ken Kowalski alone received $1.2 million to ease his move out of the public sector.
Hancock said the government will move to have the pay issue sent to the Tory-dominated, all-party member services compensation committee for implementation with the hope of getting the new rules in place later this year.
Hancock said this week the legislature members will also pick a new Speaker to replace Kowalski and fill committee posts.
There will be a traditional speech from the Throne on Thursday followed by a flagship Bill 1.
Hancock said Bill 1 will reflect one of Redford's campaign promises, but declined to elaborate.
"That's the premier's prerogative," he said.
The sitting begins with a secret ballot Wednesday to elect either Tory Gene Zwozdesky or opposition Liberal Laurie Blakeman to be Speaker.
History suggests Blakeman is in tough. The Speaker's role traditionally is won by a member of the governing party, and the Tories have 61 members to 26 for the combined opposition.
The Wildrose, under leader and new MLA Danielle Smith, won 17 seats to become the fourth Official Opposition party to challenge the Tories in their current 41-year run as the governing party.
The Liberals under Raj Sherman have five seats and Brian Mason's NDP have four.
Highlights Of The Alberta Election
Here's a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the campaign.
Wildrose Anti-Gay Blog Revealed
A blog post saying that gays were destined to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/15/wildrose-anti-gay-blog-alberta_n_1427008.html" target="_hplink">burn in a "lake of fire" for eternity was brought to light on April 16.</a> Allan Hunsperger, a pastor who's running as a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, also referenced Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way': "You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering." Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she was aware of Hunsperger's religious views.
Smith Booed, Mocked
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith found herself <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/20/danielle-smith-booed-climate-change-alberta-election-debate_n_1439858.html" target="_hplink">on the receiving end of booing and mockery at a debate on April 19 for questioning climate change .</a> "There is still a debate in the scientific community," said Smith before being drowned out by a chorus of boos and catcalls. PC leader Alison Redford said Smith leading the province would be an embarrassment.
Candidate Makes 'White Advantage' Comment
Wildrose candidate Ron Leech <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/17/ron-leech-wildrose-candidate_n_1432653.html" target="_hplink">made some controversial remarks about race on a South Asian radio show.</a> "I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks, they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community," said Leech. He apologized for his remarks on April 24, saying that his comments did not come out the way he intended.
Redford Under Seige
During the April 12 debate, the candidates for the Wildrose, Liberal and NDP took the opportunity to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/12/alberta-election-debate_n_1419850.html" target="_hplink">gang up on Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford</a>. It was an unsurprising tactic given that the Tories have held power in Alberta for 11 consecutive majority governments, although polls reveal the Wildrose may have a fighting chance.
When the Wildrose first rolled out their campaign bus, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/23/alberta-wildrose-campaign_n_1375998.html" target="_hplink">there was something distinctly odd about the wheel placement </a>in relation to Smith's image. Late night host Jay Leno even poked fun at the busty bus before a new, less suggestive design rolled out.
Closing The Gap
An April 10 poll showed that Danielle Smith's Wildrose party was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/11/alberta-election-2012-poll_n_1417267.html" target="_hplink">neck and neck with the Progressive Conservatives</a>. The Leger Marketing poll showed the Wildrose has the support of 36 per cent of Albertans, compared to 34 per cent for the governing Tories.
22 Minutes Pokes Fun At Candidates
This Hour Has 22 Minutes gave their own take on the Alberta election by poking fun at the similarities between Alison Redford and Danielle Smith. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/03/alberta-election-2012-22-minutes_n_1400747.html" target="_hplink">CLICK TO WATCH</a>
PC Staffer Gets Personal
Progressive Conservative staffer<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/pc-staffer-resigns-danielle-smith-wildrose-tweet_n_1393807.html" target="_hplink"> Amanda Wilkie "resigned" on March 31 after tweeting</a> "If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn't she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere." Backlash came swiftly from the PC, the Wildrose and Twitter users alike. Alison Redford herself issues an apology, but not before Smith revealed that she didn't have children due to fertility issues.
In a moment of levity, but mostly embarrassment for Danielle Smith, the Wildrose leader's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/danielle-smith-dogs-wildrose-alberta_n_1394069.html" target="_hplink">dogs got frisky during a photo op in Calgary</a>.
The Other Guys
In a province where conservative values dominate politics, Brian Mason's NDP and Raj Sherman's Liberals are left to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/06/alberta-election-liberals-ndp-edmonton_n_1408884.html" target="_hplink">duke it out in left-leaning pockets such as Edmonton</a>.
On April 10, for the second time, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was called out for her<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/10/danielle-smith-pro-choice-gay-marriage_n_1416319.html" target="_hplink"> supposed opposing stance on abortion and gay marriage</a>. Smith however snuffed out the controversy: "When our members elected me they knew they were electing a candidate that was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage." The issues came up earlier in the election when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/alberta-election-abortion-social-issues_n_1409963.html" target="_hplink">Smith was less forthcoming</a> on the subjects.
Tory Candidate Assaulted
Alberta's education minister Thomas Lukaszuk claimed he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/thomas-lukaszuk-assault_n_1410308.html" target="_hplink">assaulted while canvassing in an Edmonton neighbourhood</a>. He said he knocked on the door of a residence with a Wildrose support sign and, once recognized, was punched by the resident within. The resident, Al Michalchuk, says he merely nudged Lukaszuk when he refused to leave.