No-Meet Committees: Redford OK With Caucus Passing The Hat To Reimburse Members

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ALISON REDFORD
Alberta Premier Alison Redford says she is proud her Progressive Conservative caucus viewed the $194,000 payment for the infamous no-meet committee as a bigger issue and that all 61 members of caucus agreed to chip in to reimburse those affected. (Getty Images) | Getty Images

EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford says there's nothing wrong with members of her caucus passing the hat to reimburse the public for committee work that wasn't done.

Redford says she is proud Progressive Conservative MLAs viewed a $194,000 repayment for a no-meet committee as a larger problem and that all 61 members chipped in out of their own pockets.

"I'm really proud of the team," Redford said Wednesday.

"I'm very pleased that we've been able to completely pay back every single dollar and that we did it together.

"It does reflect all of our values and I'm satisfied with the outcome."

Redford was reacting to a news report that Tory caucus members voted earlier this summer to each pay $2,700 to repay the money received by 15 of their colleagues for sitting on an all-party committee that hadn't met for more than three years.

The issue wasn't about some politicians taking money they didn't earn, she said. The approach to reimbursements for all Alberta politicians was flawed.

"We all understood that there was a process in place that not just Conservative MLAs, but other MLAs frankly, received funds for," said Redford.

"Our view was that it wasn't a system that should be in place."

Wildrose critic Rob Anderson said what Redford is saying now is different from what she said when her party was plunging in the election polls and she ordered Tory members on the committee to pay back the money.

"The premier made it very clear there was going to be personal accountability, that the members on the no-meet committee were going to pay every last cent," said Anderson.

"The implication was they weren't going to be personally enriched by their activity on the no-meet committee. It turns out, after the fact, that's not the case."

The issue flared up in early March and dominated the early days of the provincial election campaign.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation broke the story when it revealed that 21 politicians were being paid $1,000 a month, even though the committee hadn't been meeting.

The federation estimated that taxpayers were paying $261,000 a year for politicians to not meet.

The issue hit all parties in the legislature. The Wildrose party and the Liberals agreed to pay the money back; the Tories and NDP refusing.

The NDP caucus said its members get a set stipend for sitting on so many committees it effectively wasn't paid for the no-meet panel.

The Tories dismissed any paybacks as "grandstanding." Tory backbencher Ray Prins, the committee chairman, said it wasn't money for nothing because "we're always on standby to meet at a moment's notice." Prins later quit government over the paybacks.

As public furor mounted, Redford retreated by degrees, first calling for a voluntary payback by Tory committee members, then calling for a mandatory payback for the six months she was premier.

Public discontent spilled over into the first week of the election campaign. With the Tories plunging and the Wildrose surging in the polls, Redford ordered a mandatory total repayment.

"All Progressive Conservative MLAs will be expected to pay back every penny of money received from the committee that has not met since 2008. Any MLAs who do not will not have a place in our Progressive Conservative caucus," Redford announced at an Edmonton campaign stop March 29.

Redford's team went on to win a majority a month later.

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