03/07/2012 01:58 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta legislature pays $261,000 a year for committee that doesn't meet

EDMONTON - Alberta is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a quarter of its politicians to sit on a committee that never meets, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reported Wednesday.

The federation, announcing its annual tongue-in-cheek Teddy Waste Awards for extravagant waste of taxpayers' dollars, singled out Alberta's standing committee on privileges and elections, standing orders and printing.

Each of the committee's 21 members have been receiving $1,000 a month for work on the panel, even though it hasn't met in over three years.

It's the largest committee in the legislature and includes representatives from the governing Progressive Conservatives, all four opposition parties and even independent Lloyd Snelgrove.

Committee chairman Ray Prins, a Tory backbencher, makes $18,000 a year for his added responsibilities. He defended the committee.

"We're always on standby to meet at a moment's notice," he said.

The comment left federation spokesman Scott Hennig rolling his eyes.

"I'm sure they have some sort of Bat Signal they put up outside the legislature, and all 21 of them scurry back here for the important meeting of the standing committee on privileges and elections, standing orders and printing," said Hennig.

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

"I'm sure that's just a coincidence that once they stop getting paid per meeting, they stop meeting," said Hennig.

Prins noted that retired Supreme Court justice John Major is now conducting an independent review of all pay and perks for Alberta politicians.

"When he comes out with his report, we'll go along with that," he said.

The review was called by Premier Alison Redford due to lingering public resentment over former premier Ed Stelmach's cabinet voting itself 30 per cent-plus pay hikes after winning the 2008 election.

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.

Committee member Genia Leskiw, a Tory backbencher, was surprised to hear about the extra pay.

"To tell you the truth, I don't even look at my paycheque," she said.

She said committee work in general is very demanding.

"I can't even remember all the committees I'm working on," she said.

"All I know is I seem to be working from morning til night every day."

Tory backbencher Dave Quest, who is also on the committee, said singling out the pay for one committee takes the entire pay structure out of context.

He said there's a $4,000 maximum per month for committee work, regardless of how many committees a member sits on.

He said some committee work therefore ends up being done for free.

"If you're sitting on seven (committees), and you're maxed at four (thousand dollars), which ones were you sitting on for free?" he said.

"You get paid the same for the ones that meet several times a month and for the ones that don't. That's how the plan works."

The government members on the committee also include Stelmach, Gene Zwozdesky, Janis Tarchuk, Bridget Pastoor, Len Mitzel, Barry McFarland, Mel Knight, Broyce Jacobs, Arno Doerksen, Alana DeLong, Pearl Calahasen and Moe Amery.

Heather Forsyth and Guy Boutilier of the Wildrose Party are on the panel, as is Rachel Notley of the NDP.

There is also Dave Taylor of the Alberta Party and David Swann of the Liberals.

Both Swann and Notley said they have protested the non-meetings of the committee and have tried to get it to do some work.

Swann said he doesn't not accept the stipend and instead gives it to charities and to his party.

"We've protested it and now it's up to us individually to deal with it. And to change the government ultimately," said Swann.