Committee pay for Tory MLAs halted

Reimbursements by Opposition 'stunts,' Redford charges

Premier Alison Redford on Monday ordered Conservative MLAs to stop accepting committee pay until a salary review is complete.

She hasn't, however, asked government MLAs to refund money they were paid to sit on a committee that has not met since 2008.

Wildrose MLAs Heather Forsyth will return the $40,000 she was paid for sitting on the committee and Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier will return his $4,000 in pay.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman has also pledged to refund the money.

Redford dismissed the reimbursements as a political "stunt," while government house leader Dave Hancock called it "grandstanding."

"I find it terribly interesting that a number of people in this house, who today have come up with a convenient stunt to try and polarize an issue, are people who were fully aware of what they were receiving for payment and did nothing about it until today," Redford told the legislature.

"We will do exactly what I've com-mitted to doing, which is to have an independent commission make a recommendation to not only how government members are paid, but all members in the legislature."

Redford promised to review MLA compensation during the Conservative leadership race last summer. After she became premier, she set up an independent commission to review MLA pay.

The commission, led by retired Supreme Court justice Jack Major, is expected to report back with recommendations at the end of April.

"We will take that recommendation seriously (and) accept those recommendations," Redford said.

The standing committee on privileges and elections made headlines last week when it was revealed that 21 MLAs are paid $1,000 a month for sitting on the committee.

Asked whether Tory MLAs plan to refund money they earned for sitting on the committee, Hancock said "some members can grandstand about the issue.

"What they're saying if they're giving money back in my view is that they don't believe that they've earned the money. All MLAs work hard. - There should be no doubt about that.

"The money that they (receive) is earned so any of that sort of stuff is just grandstanding, particularly from people who never made any com-plaint or concern about it before."

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said her party has advocated for three years to see MLA pay structures changed.

"We don't believe that we need to wait for a judge to tell us what the right thing to do is," she said.

The Wildrose would cap lucrative severance payments, she said, and introduce a single, fully taxable salary for MLAs. The party would also rescind the controversial 30-per-cent pay increases introduced in 2008 and roll back salaries by five per cent.

"After 40 years in power, (the Conservatives) think the rules don't apply to them. They don't know where the ethical line is. They don't know where the legal line is. And as a result they make decisions that are clearly out of step with what Albertans want to see," Smith said.

NDP Leader Brian Mason said both NDP members will also stop accepting committee pay until Major re-leases his recommendations.

"This whole thing needs to be fixed and the public has made that very clear," Mason said. "We're going to co-operate with that effort."

He said NDP MLA Rachel Notley sat on the committee, but won't return any money. Mason said she sits on so many committees that she would have been entitled to the maximum $3,500 in pay regardless of whether she was named to the elections and privileges committee.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman re-fused to say whether his MLAs will stop taking committee pay.

"To suspend committee pay two weeks before an election, that's a bit of a joke," Sherman said. "First the premier was a cop-out and now she'll say anything just before an election."

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation last week awarded the committee a national award for wasting hundreds of thousands in pay to committee members.

Federation spokesman Scott Hen-nig said Monday that Redford's response is a good first step, but that people won't be satisfied until all of the MLAs who were paid for sitting on the committee have reimbursed the money.

Albertans, "are spitting mad still. I don't think this has completely solved this issue," Hennig said.

"She should be asking her MLAs to refund the money. I think if she asked ... that would be a pretty strong request."

Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 13 2012
Byline: Karen Kleiss

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