by Colin Smith
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation claims that Alberta politicians are paid too well and that their compensation should be cut, with the COVID-19 crisis being “a perfect time” to do so.
That’s according to a recently released commentary from the non-profit organization, which wants lower taxes and reduced government spending.
Politicians at the provincial level are its primary target, but pay for municipal elected officials is also criticized, specifically in Edmonton and Calgary.
“Local politicians must also show their citizens that they are willing to share in the tough times,” the commentary declares.
But if there were a case to be made for reducing the pay of Morinville Council members, Mayor Barry Turner argues that during this pandemic crisis would not be the time to do it.
“Some on Council have experienced a loss of other employment and business income already as a result of this pandemic,” Turner said.
“Unfortunately, Council income eliminates members of Council from applying for many, if not all, of the supports, put in place by the Provincial and Federal governments to support individuals and families at this time.”
Additionally, the pay Councillors receive from per diems for attending specific meetings has dropped as boards, commissions and committees are no longer meeting and seminars, conferences and conventions have been cancelled.
“The burden of responsibility for our communities’ well-being is also quite heavy at this time, and also exacts a heavy personal toll on elected officials at all levels,” said Turner.
He said members of Council all continue to perform their role and are doing what they can to support the community through this crisis by being active on social media or within their networks to actively engage and support the community conversation and collective response.
However, Turner also noted that changing circumstances could affect the sustainability of the community.
“Council will weigh all of the challenges and I know is willing to put all options on the table to ensure our community continues to thrive once this threat abates.”
Turner added that while reducing Council pay is not now under consideration, “nothing precludes it from being considered if such a move would be in the best interest of the Town of Morinville’s financial stability.”
Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said Council has not formally debated any changes to compensation for its members or County employees.
“Those that are currently working are being compensated,” she said. “As Council members, we have had some of our board and committee meetings postponed or moved to virtual meetings. The effect of this is a reduction in per diems and mileage paid, depending on the board or committee.
Hnatiw also noted that many municipal elected officials are part-time and have other jobs or businesses that are greatly affected by COVID-19 in the same way that ratepayers are, and partners and spouses feel the impact as well.
“The [CTF] article’s comments assume the politician is somehow insulated and not already impacted by the pandemic,” she said.
“I understand the Taxpayers Association focuses their attention on the politicians and I understand and respect their work, but their position in this respect is one-sided. There are different circumstances for everyone. Some people are at home and without work because of the reality of a pandemic, and some people are working from home because of the pandemic.”
Hnatiw pointed out that elected officials spend their money locally and support local charities generously.
“I fail to see how a reduction in pay is a solution with tangible benefit for the people we represent.”
In the commentary, the Federation credits Alberta MLAs for taking a five per cent cut last summer, while the premier took a 10 per cent cut.
But, it states, “Alberta’s rank-and-file MLAs still make significantly more than their counterparts in other provinces. Alberta’s recent budget outlines the importance of bringing government compensation in line with similar provinces. Now is the perfect time to institute this policy at the political level.”