05/02/2012 06:55 EDT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Simpler pay structure, possible wage cut recommended for Alberta MLAs

EDMONTON - A report tabled with the Alberta legislature has recommended a radically simplified pay structure for the province's MLAs that could result in a pay cut for some of them and a big bump for the premier.

Retired judge John Major says Alberta should scrap the bewildering spiderweb of base salary with extra pay for committees with a single paycheque of $112,500. Of that, $37,500 would be tax free, meaning a total salary equivalent to $134,000.

That's about middle of the pack compared with other legislators in Canada, said Major. The current base salary for Alberta politicians is $78,000 — second lowest in Canada. But Alberta pays its politicians extra for additional duties such as sitting on committees. Government documents suggest the current average, when all benefits and extra payments are included, is about $160,000.

Major also recommended the Speaker of House, cabinet ministers and the leader of the Opposition receive an extra $67,000.

When it comes to the premier, Major recommended that person be paid $268,000 this year,with a raise to $301,500 the following year and $335,000 in 2014.

Premier Alison Redford's current salary is $211,000 — the highest of any provincial premier.

"This would bring the premier's compensation more in line with Alberta's highest paid public servants and more commensurate with overall duties, responsibilities and accountability," the report reads.

Redford said she needs more time to digest the report, but was surprised by the recommendation to hike her salary.

"I could not take that. I would not take that. It is not what Albertans want," Reford told reporters. "I don't think that's appropriate."

She said that because the report was independent, it will be important to accept the other recommendations.

"If, at the end of the day by not accepting that salary recommendation, I am criticized for not accepting an independent report — I'd rather have that criticism than be criticized for accepting that kind of a salary recommendation," she said

Major's committee was created out of a promise made by Redford during her campaign for the leadership of the province's Progressive Conservative party. The issue arose after reports that one-quarter of the province's sitting MLAs didn't plan to run for re-election in the recent election, creating a payout of millions of dollars for so-called "transition allowances."

Those allowances were created in 1993 by Ralph Klein's government to replace what was considered a too-generous MLA pension plan.

That transition allowance was adjusted twice under Klein to increase the amount of money politicians could receive. Critics such as the rival Wildrose party say the benefits, based on three months of salary for every year of service, have become far too generous.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates that, with 33 years of service, former Speaker Ken Kowalski is set to walk away with $1.3 million. Close behind is Stelmach, who will take home an estimated $1 million for his 19 years in the legislature.

Major recommended the transition allowance be cut back to two months salary for every year served, to a maximum of 12 months.

"A transition allowance should provide short-term assistance to former members in re-etering private life; it should not take the place of a pension or be funded without limit," he wrote.

"This is a formula seen frequently in the private sector (and) in some of the other provincial jurisdictions and would require an MLA to serve at least six years to reach the maximum accruable allowance."

Major recommends a pension plan be reinstated, on a go-forward basis with no recognition of past service.

Scott Hennig with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Redford is making the right decision to dismiss the idea for a bump in her salary.

And he hopes she does the same with the recommendation for what he calls a gold-plated pension plan, the same kind Klein got rid of when Albertans demanded.

"This was a pivotal issue in 1993 that almost took down the government," he said.

Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw said he's disappointed there's a non-taxable portion.

"We think that they should be going back to the drawing board. We're going to be holding them to account in the legislature."

NDP Leader Brian Mason said Redford promised during the election campaign that she would support the Major report.

"One thing that is clear to me is that Alison Redford contradicts herself every other day."

Major's review initially met with indifference. Hearings slated for Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray were cancelled due to a lack of participants.

But interest in the report grew after the taxpayers federation revealed the existence of a legislative committee that never met, yet paid $1,000 a month to the MLAs who sat on it. The so-called money-for-nothing committee eventually became a major headache for Redford's Tories during the campaign.