05/22/2012 05:21 EDT | Updated 07/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta Throne Speech: Alison Redford To Unveil Mysterious Bill 1 As Government Works On Politician Pay Deal


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.

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