EDMONTON - Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservatives have scrapped their plan to have taxpayers cover off the maximum RRSP contribution for all politicians, implementing instead a new plan opponents say is still a cash grab.
Tory Whip Steve Young, who made the motion that the Tory majority passed in the all-party member services committee, said the new deal is fair, open, and easy to understand.
"There's no secret, there's no pension, (and) there is not a transition (allowance)," Young Tuesday. "There's a number, and the number is reasonable."
The committee had been tasked with implementing a new retirement plan for the 87 members of the legislature.
Redford's team came under fire from critics last month when the Tories on the committee passed a motion for the retirement plan to involve taxpayers paying the full RRSP $23,000 contribution for politicians.
The new plan approved Tuesday will also allow for a full RRSP top-up, but this time the politicians have to put in some of their own money.
The plan will see politicians get a set amount of money equal to 13 per cent of their salary each year. For the average backbencher making the minimum of $134,000, that means they get about $17,400 each year to spend or invest however they wish.
They will also have their RRSP contributions matched up to 3.25 per cent of salary. For the average backbencher that means if he or she puts in the maximum of $4,900, the government will match it.
Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the plan makes sure that politicians and taxpayers work together.
"MLAs now also have to have their own skin in the game. They have to put in their own dollars as a form of contribution, but this is all in lieu of a retirement package," said Lukaszuk.
Lukaszuk said the new package is comparable or less than other jurisdictions in Canada.
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Opposition members either voted against the deal or, in the case of Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, abstained.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said it amounts to an eight per cent boost to an MLA's salary and is far out of line with what average Albertans are getting.
"Albertans have no appetite to see MLAs increasing their own pay, doing so at a rate that is well above inflation (and) doing so when they can't even balance the budget," said Smith.
Sherman walked out of the committee room during the vote to underscore his point that independent bodies, not politicians, should set politician pay.
"The government keeps voting itself pay raises," Sherman said later. "This is called public service, not getting rich off the public."
NDP Leader Brian Mason said he's frustrated by the entire process and is baffled why politicians can't craft a basic pension deal comparable to those for teachers or nurses.
"The Conservatives keep turning it into an opportunity to enrich everybody, the Wildrose plays a game of trying to put everybody on a race to the bottom, and the Liberals just run out of the room every time there's a vote," said Mason.
"We've lost sight of the objective."
The issue has been a political minefield for Redford, particularly over transition allowances.
The allowances paid out cash to politicians to help ease their way back to private life after they retired or were beaten at the polls.
But during the spring election, Redford and her team were criticized over $10.6 million being paid to 25 outgoing MLAs, including $1 million for Speaker Ken Kowalski alone.
Redford cancelled the transition allowances going forward in mid-campaign and her party went on to win majority government on April 23.
The issue resurfaced Oct. 19, at the same committee meeting where the Tory majority passed Young's motion for the full taxpayer top-up on RRSPs.
Included in that same motion was a call to have Redford's government bring back the transition allowances, but with a smaller payout.
A day later, Redford told reporters that transition allowances, in any form, will not return on her watch.
Young took the blame, calling it a mix-up in communication with the premier, and on Tuesday made the motion that killed the bid for a new transition allowance.
Lukaszuk told reporters that while the entire Tory caucus had signed off on Tuesday's plan, Young and the other Tories on the committee were acting on their own at the ill-fated Oct. 19 meeting.
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