Letter: Re $870,000 is a lot of money

Editor:

Amongst the many political issues exciting our province, one concerns MLA and cabinet pay.

A controversy has erupted with the disclosure that an all-party Legislature committee – the 21-member Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections – has not met for years, yet every member has been paid $12,000 a year for their “service.”

People wonder, why in heaven’s name are we paying MLAs to sit on committees that never meet?

Good question.

Two years ago, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith asked me to co-chair an in-house task force of 73 party members recruited at random from across Alberta to consider MLA compensation.

After three months of on-line study, discussion and voting, we concluded that MLA pay is (a) too generous, (b) impossible to monitor, and (c) verging on dishonest. It appears to be designed to make MLAs obedient to the government.

In the end our task force voted almost unanimously for seven recommendations, which contributed to our party’s present position on MLA pay.

We said that (1) MLA and Cabinet expenses should be publicly disclosed, (2) committee pay should be restricted to major, all-party committees and should amount to no more than a modest per-diem reflecting members’ time and attendance, (3) overall MLA pay and benefits should be fully taxed and (4) “noticeably” reduced, (5) the transition allowance (severance pay) should be cut by two-thirds, (6) future adjustments apart from inflation should be initiated only by a panel consisting equally of compensation experts and a jury of citizens chosen at random, and (7) the Legislature should consider a long-range reduction in the number of MLAs.

This exercise in democratic consultation was remarkably successful. Our task force members remained polite and constructive, even when in disagreement, and kept their focus on the big picture.

Before we could deal with details like committee pay, we had to determine what really is the purpose of an MLA, and roughly how much in total is the job worth? Only then could we consider the details.

Premier Redford has handed the whole issue our task force dealt with to Jack Major, a retired Supreme Court judge and former Tory corporate lawyer from Calgary.

Bad idea. Income-wise, Justice Major comes from a very different world than most of us. This is unfortunate. I believe MLA pay should more closely resemble that of the average citizen, not the highest-paid five percent.

Taking into account all forms of pay and benefits, including the present incredibly generous severance benefit but excluding job-related expenses, backbench government MLAs are paid just short of $200,000 a year, and ministers about $60,000 more than that.

I’d be interested in knowing what level of pay a task force of properly-informed Albertans considers to be appropriate. I believe it is far more relevant than what a hand-picked former judge of the Supreme Court thinks.

Link Byfield

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4 Comments

  1. Interesting how, when not in power, a political party always calculateds that the politicians in power are being paid too much.

  2. I would be interested in hearing some of your party’s other policies.

    Like on health care, the power lines, land rights or what ever you think we need to know about this new party.

    I cant see me voting for the same mismanagement again and again.

    Nice to see you plan to remove the feeding trough.

  3. I think each MLA should get a fully taxable pay and benefits package of $125,000 per year + expenses up to $10,000 per year + a company vehicle for the 4-year term they are elected to. This compensation package would cover ALL government, committee and constituency work. Cabinet ministers should get a fully-taxable $185,000 pay and benefits package + expenses up to $20,000 per year + company vehicle.

    If they are re-elected, then it would be up to their constituents to approve any increase for cost-of-living based on their performance representing the constituency in the previous term.

    They should be able to contribute to an MLA RRSP plan (as part of their benefit package)and the government match 50% of the MLA’s own contributions to the plan. This would replace giant severance package payouts and costly administration of pension plans.

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