Four years ago, Alberta's MLAs voted themselves a huge increase in their compensation. They did this just after the August long weekend, when Albertans were on holidays, or just leaving for holidays, or just coming back from holidays, or thinking about holidays.
The MLAs on the Members' Services Committee vastly increased their MLA severance pay, and they also voted themselves a brand new RSP allowance. They did so without any public input or consultation, just a few months after a provincial election in which no party or candidate talked about MLA compensation.
The MLA severance pay in 2001 was already generous: two months' salary for every year in office, to a maximum of 24 months. But that wasn't good enough for Liberal and Conservative MLAs, who voted to increase their severance pay to three months' salary for every year in office, with no maximum limit. After the 2004 election, Alberta taxpayers were on the hook to pay $516,000 to Halver Jonson, $478,000 to Pat Nelson, $356,000 to Lorne Taylor, $274,000 to Mark Hlady, $181,000 to Mary O'Neill, and so on. Premier Klein will get $670,000 from taxpayers if he retires in 2008.
The NDP joined the Liberals and Conservative in voting to create a brand new RSP allowance, currently $9,000 per year, and set to rise to $11,000 and even higher, as it is based on 50% of the federal maximum RSP contribution limit.
In protest, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation placed 82 pink pigs on the Legislature lawn.
Now, four years later, just after the August long weekend, there is more talk about another MLA pay increase. Here is why MLA's don't need or deserve another raise:
First, Alberta MLAs are the third-highest paid provincial politicians in Canada, after those in Ontario and Quebec. Only if one ignores the $22,566 tax-free allowance and the $9,000-per-year RSP allowance do Alberta MLAs rank lower than third place.
Second, the after-tax take-home pay for MLAs, when you include the tax-free allowance and the RSP allowance, is the same as an Albertan earning over $80,000 per year. This means that Alberta's MLAs are already in the top 10% - if not the top 5% - of all income earners.
Third, there is little transparency in MLA compensation. Neither the RSP allowance nor the huge MLA severance pay packages are mentioned on the main web page for
MLA remuneration at www.assembly.ab.ca. The only way a taxpayer would know about these things is by reading through the small print of a 130-page "Members' Guide."
Fourth, Premier Klein and his Tories loudly and proudly abolished the former MLA pension plan in 1993, which helped them beat the Liberals and win the election. They have no basis for whining about the absence of a pension plan, since they themselves chose to get rid of it.
Fifth, MLAs get a raise each year, on April 1, based on the Statistics Canada average weekly earnings index. In recent years, MLAs have received raises ranging from 1.1% to 3.3%. That's not bad for people who are already earning more money than 90% of their fellow citizens.
Sixth, Alberta voters were not consulted before or during the last provincial election about increasing MLA compensation. Therefore, there is no political or moral mandate for MLAs to unilaterally hike their own pay without public consultation and input.