Commission to review MLA pay

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Premier Ed Stelmach promised Tuesday to form an independent commission to review MLA pay, one day after Alberta Liberal MLA Bridget Pastoor brought forward a motion calling for such a commission.

That motion passed unanimously but was non-binding on the government.

Stelmach said the commission would be formed by the fall but didn’t have details about its composition.

MLA salaries haven’t been reviewed in 16 years, when accounting firm KPMG did an analysis. Pastoor’s motion called for an independent commission to review the current salaries and benefits for MLAs to determine whether they are fair and adequate.

“An independent review committee would take the politics out of the compensation process and give Albertans more trust and confidence in their elected officials,” Pastoor said.

The issue of MLAs deciding their own pay has been a thorny one in recent years.

In 2008 the premier and cabinet ministers gave themselves an increase in committee pay that amounted to more than 30 per cent of their total compensation.

Last October, a day after announcing a public sector salary freeze, Stelmach said both he and his cabinet were taking cuts. These amounted to decreases of only 5.4 per cent to Stelmach’s total salary, and 3.2 per cent for cabinet members, said the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

MLAs currently make a base salary of $78,138, one-third of which is tax-free. Annual increases to this base salary are automatically tied to inflation. MLAs earn more money for sitting on committees.

St. Albert MLA Ken Allred thinks the commission is a good idea as long as the recommendations come from an informed panel rather than an accounting firm. His preference would be a cross section of people that includes legal and business experience.

“It needs to be an independent commission of independent people that needs to make the final recommendation,” he said.

The issue is one he hears about often, usually as a tagline after some other complaint.

“From the public’s perspective it is a big issue. Everybody feels that politicians are paid too much,” Allred said.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which for years has been complaining about politicians setting their own pay, likes the idea behind the motion but is concerned that its wording could lead to a panel of experts, “which often is just a thin veneer over political participation into the process,” said Alberta director Scott Hennig.

“It should be the people, the citizens, average taxpayers because they’re ultimately the boss,” Hennig said.

“It’s certainly better than what we’ve got,” he added.

The Wildrose Alliance Party has been delving into the issue of MLA pay for the past several months. Local member Link Byfield is co-chair of the party’s committee.

Members have been voting on various aspects online and have already turfed the tax-free element.

“If you’re the only person in Alberta that gets … a big chunk of your salary tax-free, that affects the way you govern,” Byfield said. “It puts you in a privileged category.”

He doesn’t trust expert panels, because they tend to be too closely tied to the power structure. He’d rather see a random sampling of Albertans representing a broad cross-section of views.

“It’s so central to the psychology of your representatives how much and how they get paid,” Byfield said. “It always is with people.”

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