|Little Bow candidates differ with views of MLA pay|
|Local Content - Local News|
|Written by Trevor Busch|
|Thursday, 22 March 2012 14:13|
By Trevor Busch
Questions have arisen in the province in recent weeks over the pay MLAs receive for committee work and apparent abuses of that system.
Earlier this month, the so-called “no-meet” committee issue initiated a controversy when it was revealed its members were paid $1,000 per month despite not having met since November 2008.
“I believe that Premier Redford identified the issue of MLA pay last fall,” said Little Bow Progressive Conservative candidate John Kolk. “She called for a review — with an eye to public understanding, transparency and accountability.”
In the wake of the controversy, Premier Alison Redford has pledged a full review of all political compensation, but stopped short of ordering Tory MLAs to return any of the money received.
Little Bow Wildrose Alliance candidate Ian Donovan attempted to explain his perceptions of how MLA committee pay is constructed under the ruling PCs.
“Every MLA is paid roughly $125,000 per year in salary — so about $10,500 a month. However, the PCs didn't want to be truthful about that so they set up a weird system to pay MLAs that would confuse the public into thinking they weren't making as much as they actually were and give the premier the power to punish MLAs that step out of line on their paychecks. Roughly $60,000 is base pay, roughly $36,000 is paid to MLAs for their ‘committee’ work. In order to claim the $3,000 per month ($36,000 per year) an MLA has to sit on three committees. The problem is, however, the government picks and chooses how many opposition MLAs can sit on each committee.”
Donovan furthered a detailed analysis of the committee pay structure, while outlining his opinion the government uses this structure to stifle both government and opposition MLAs and railroad them into submission.
“Guy Boutilier and Heather Forsyth, for example, did not want to be on this ridiculous do-nothing privileges committee, they wanted to be on another committee instead, but the PCs came back and told them that they couldn't have more than one Wildroser on the committees they wanted, and so if they wanted their full salaries they would have to sit on one of the ‘do-nothing’ committees. The reason the PCs do this is so if a government MLA or opposition MLA gets out of line — like Heather Forsyth did when she criticized Ed Stelmach during the last election — they can cut back that MLA’s salary as punishment. In Heathers' case, the government wouldn't let her sit on any committees, thus reducing her pay by $3,000 for a time before later allowing her to be on three committees that they chose for her. Essentially, it’s a way for the premier to be able to bully dissenting MLAs on their paychecks.”
Kolk offered MLAs need to be paid effectively for work involving their constituencies and various other duties.
“I think that MLAs need to be paid fairly for the work that we ask and expect them to do. That included many hours of committee and legislative work and their requirements. For example, the MLA for Little Bow will have to meet with 15 towns, villages and M.D.s/counties with councils, and the 14 additional community associations. That means the MLA has to be on the road constantly to effectively represent the people and area.”
Donovan alleged the committee pay structure is merely an attempt by the PC government to reward government MLAs.
“Finally, there is a tax-free allowance for MLA work-related expenses for about $30,000. Again, this is done so the PCs can brag they only make a salary of $60,000 — which is ridiculous, of course. There is also the big severance packages as well, three months pay for every year served — and do not forget that cabinet gets about $100,000 in addition to what I've outlined. In addition, PC MLAs get further pay to sit on committees that generally meet once a year — one got $16,000 per year to chair the Idaho-Alberta relations council if you can believe it — and they didn't meet once. This is done to reward PC MLAs who didn't make it into cabinet — a way of giving them cabinet pay without them being cabinet ministers.”
“The opposition does not sit on any of those committees, and we shouldn't because those committees shouldn't even exist in my opinion, and we will get rid of them if elected.”
Several Wildrose Alliance MLAs who were members of the standing committee on privileges, elections, standing orders and printing (the “no-meet” committee) have announced intentions to return payments they received for their membership. Wildrose Alliance MLA Paul Hinman, who sat on the committee between 2009 and 2011, drew fire when he initially announced he would not be returning his committee pay, but has since rescinded his position on the matter and agreed to return the money.
Liberal leader Raj Sherman has already returned almost $44,000, while Liberal MLA David Swann indicated he had donated his committee pay to charity.
“I don't think these MLAs need to return what is really just a portion of their salary,” said Donovan. “What we need is to do is elect a new government that will cut the lavish benefits, be completely transparent and truthful with Albertans on what MLAs are paid, and one that doesn't raise their pay behind closed doors.”