EDMONTON - All members of Alberta's Wildrose party are funnelling eight per cent of their salaries to charity to make a point about overpaid politicos in the province.
Opposition leader Danielle Smith said Monday it's the right thing to do, given that the recent eight per cent salary boost for all 87 Alberta MLAs was not raised as an issue in last spring's election.
"Nobody campaigned on a pay hike. It wasn't in our platform, it wasn't in (the governing Progressive Conservatives') platform," said Smith.
"Not one current MLA knocked on the doors and told Albertans that if elected they would help themselves to a fatter paycheque.
"It was brazen, it was disrespectful and it was wrong."
Smith said all 17 members of her caucus are accepting no more than $145,000 a year, rather than the current $156,000.
She said the giveback will deliver, after taxes, about $61,000 that will be handed out by a Wildrose caucus subcommittee to groups in the education, justice and health fields.
The pay issue has been the subject of a partisan political feud that peaked in the last election when voters spoke out against millions of dollars being paid to retiring politicians to ease their transition to private life.
Before voting day last April, Premier Alison Redford announced her government was doing away with those so-called transition allowances, effectively dropping MLA salaries from $169,000 to $145,000.
About six months after the election, the Tories used their majority on an all-party legislature committee to boost pay back up to the current standard of $156,000 as part of reforms to help MLAs contribute to their retirement through RRSPs.
The Wildrose says that's an eight per cent pay hike. The Tories argue that compared with the $169,000 all MLAs made before voting day, it's an eight per cent cut.
Smith invited other politicians Monday to make a similar charitable contribution.
Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk told the house during question period that his caucus members already donate some of their salaries to charity and don't need to chest-thump about it.
"They don't need to stand up in the house and announce it to the whole world," said Lukaszuk, who dismissed the Wildrose giveback as a "gimmick."
Austerity has become a politically sensitive point now that Redford's government has announced it will go more than $6 billion in the red this year to pay for basic services and to build roads, schools and hospitals.
Last month, the Tories used their majority on the same member services committee to freeze pay for all MLAs before a scheduled 1.1 per cent cost of living boost was set to kick in April 1.
The government has also announced it is cutting 10 per cent of its management jobs and freezing pay for all managers for three years.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said the entire pay affair is posturing about an issue that shouldn't be left in the hands of politicians in the first place.
Sherman has repeatedly urged that politician pay be delegated to an independent body.
"MLAs have to stop talking about MLA pay."
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