Alberta's MLAs do pretty well for themselves.
MLAs in this province take home a base pay package of $156,311, which includes the $134,000 salary and $22,311 in lieu of a pension or RRSP. That's nothing to sneeze at - in fact, it's better than nothing to sneeze at. MLAs in Alberta are paid better than their provincial counterparts, and that base salary is just the beginning for many, who earn extra to chair committees or take on ministry portfolios.
So when the legislature's member services committee announced MLA pay would be frozen this year, it was looked upon by most Albertans as a hollow gesture. MLAs were to see an increase on April 1, one tied to the Consumer Price Index, which would have boosted pay by about one per cent this year.
Instead, reports have revealed the government will save about $200,000 by not giving out the raises - a veritable drop in the bucket on spending that totals $41 billion.
The Progressive Conservatives have called it leading by example, an example average, everyday Albertans will likely find difficult to relate to. It is also an example Alberta's labour unions have rejected, as the province's doctors and teachers continue to negotiate, while over 20,000 front-line Alberta Union of Provincial Employees employees wait for collective bargaining talks to begin later this month.
Union leaders have stated the MLA wage freeze will not impact their negotiating stances, and is just another example of the province digging in its heels for what looks to be a rocky ride over the next few weeks, as the province readies to launch its 2013-2014 budget early next month.
Certainly, Albertans did not have an appetite for pay raises for provincial politicians and in a sense, the government did get this one right. However, its overall impact will be very minimal and when one considers the pay increases MLAs have received over the years, the hollow gesture argument can once again be made.
The Opposition has noted that in November, the member services committee voted to add $11,000 for MLAs to direct to their RRSPs, which was reported as being eight per cent more than MLAs were expected to earn when they were elected last spring.
With this in mind, Redford's message, that belt tightening begins at the top, has been viewed rather cynically by some, as the general public is painfully aware much more drastic changes are going to be required to deal with Alberta's revenue problem.
Still, it is a step in the right direction, even though it may be a little past due.
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