CALGARY — Alberta’s MLAs got caught with their severance and entitlements exposed, and they paid dearly both in scandal and public esteem.
Now the Redford Tories are agonizing over a new way to do it, one that includes lower salary, an end to those lush severance packages, little or no committee pay, and a new pension scheme.
After seeing numbers released Thursday, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s time to let up on the poor darlings.
But let’s not weep too soon. The pensions suggested for them are so modest it’s hard to believe they’ll actually go through with it.
A retiring MLA would get between $18,000 and $23,000 in annual pension; the premier, from $24,000 to $27,000.
If Premier Redford left after two terms under this system, she’d need about 48 years of happy retirement to catch up with former Speaker Ken Kowalski’s $1.2 million severance payout.
One Tory MLA, Dave Quest, suggested the MLAs might wait until they see federal reforms before making a decision.
Yes, stalling could be in order, because these MLAs are staring at smaller bank accounts, with no golden goose waiting at the shuffleboard table.
First, their base salary, with proposed pension entitlement, is now down in the middle of the Canadian pack.
This started with Justice Jack Major’s report, which recommended a clear basic salary of $134,000, and no extra money for those dubious committees.
Total compensation, including proposed pension entitlement, would be $146,060.
Our MLAs would drop behind federal MPs and senators, as well as legislature members from Quebec, Nunavut and Yukon.
The real shift, though, would be in the amount MLAs take away after they leave.
The old severance regime supplied huge amounts to long-serving MLAs.
Besides Kowalski, ex-premier Ed Stelmach was due nearly $1 million, and former minister Ray Danyluk (now running for the presidency of the PC Party) was entitled to more than $500,000. The total payout to MLAs who resigned or were voted out in the election was $10.4 million.
Those severance amounts grew over more than a decade precisely because there was no pension.
The MLAs threw every penny they made into the entitlement pot. Pay tended to creep higher year by year, because that, in turn, topped up the severance. The most obvious ruse was the infamous no-meet committee.
By the end, it was a rotten system that had to go.
Now, the surprise is the modesty of the pension regime being suggested to replace severance.
The idea is that the “employer” (that’s us) would pay only nine per cent of an MLAs salary into a new pension scheme.
Saskatchewan, at 11 per cent, comes close to this modest figure. So does Ontario with 10 per cent.
Elsewhere, the free pension money escalates wildly, to 53.6 per cent of salary in Quebec and (wow!) 75.5 per cent in Nunavut and Yukon.
In some provinces, the big pension contributions compensate for relatively low MLA pay.
In B.C., the basic MLA salary is $101,000, but the government adds $40,000 a year to the pension fund.
That can mean very big pensions. Former premier Gordon Campbell, after 15 years as an MLA and premier, is paid $98,175 a year.
And Redford would get only about $25,000.
That would be a nice gesture to the taxpayer. We should recall, too, that Redford has already refused a big basic pay bump proposed by Jack Major.
But will these pension reforms actually come to pass as billed?
If you’re inclined to wager, you should bet instead on the Flames winning the Stanley Cup without playing any hockey.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Heralddbraid@CalgaryHerald.com
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