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?
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.
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