Legislature approves proposed changes to politicians’ pay

 By Keith Gerein, edmontonjournal.com May 29, 2012

EDMONTON – Debate raged Tuesday in the Alberta legislature over the issue of politicians’ pay, as MLAs gave approval to the majority of Jack Major’s proposals to clean up the compensation system.

The legislature’s vote on Tuesday to approve all but four of the recommendations from the former Supreme Court justice came over the objections of several opposition members. While Wildrose MLAs suggested aspects of the proposal are still too rich, Liberal members argued MLAs shouldn’t be debating their own compensation at all.

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said the process can hardly be called independent if MLAs are “cherry-picking” only what they like from Major’s findings.

“We said we wanted someone else to do this for us, and what are we doing? We are debating our own pay,” she said. “We have the government saying we accept the report, except certain things.”

Tuesday’s vote means the issue now passes to the all-party members services committee, which is responsible for implementing the changes. If the committee moves ahead, MLAs will get Major’s recommended base salary of $134,000, plus up to $67,000 more when they take on extra responsibilities. Though the practice of additional money for committee work will end, Alberta MLAs will still be among the highest paid politicians in the country, behind only Quebec, territorial and federal politicians.

One of Major’s proposals that was not accepted concerns payment for the premier.

Instead of boosting Redford’s salary to $335,000 over the next three years, it will instead be set at approximately 25 per cent more than a minister with a portfolio. The premier’s salary is currently set at about $200,000.

The government has also pledged to eliminate severance pay and the tax-free portion of MLA pay. This will be countered somewhat by the reintroduction of a pension plan, which was scrapped by the Klein government in 1992. The member services committee has been asked to look at the advantages of going with a “defined-contribution” pension plan rather than the “defined-benefit” plan Major recommended.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said her party agrees with many of the proposed changes, but believes some numbers are still too high. In particular, she said the pay for cabinet ministers, who voted themselves a 34-per-cent increase in 2008, should be rolled back.

“No one I spoke to during the recent election said cabinet ministers need a pay raise.”

Smith also targeted the “gold-plated” pension plan Major recommended, saying the government was right to have killed it two decades ago.

“Reinstating this would be a slap in the face to Alberta taxpayers and hard-working Alberta families,” she said. “If we accept this, we merely affirm that which most people already believe about their politicians, that we aren’t really interested in serving the public, that we are merely here for what we stand to gain from it.”

The NDP said politicians pay should be re-examined to get more in line with typical Albertans.

Government House Leader Dave Hancock said he also hopes the members services committee pushes toward a defined contribution plan, which carries less risk of liabilities. However, he took issue with the suggestion that MLAs were again setting their own pay.

“Where we are asking (the committee) to deviate from the report I think is in structure rather than in substance,” he said. “So I think it meets the objective of saying that we’re accepting Mr. Justice Major’s report.”

It is unclear when the committee, leader by new Speaker Gene Zwozdesky, will hold its first meeting.

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