The controversy over committee compensation has led Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ray Prins to announce he will not run again, on the eve of a provincial election.
Prins announced the decision not to seek re-election for the Conservatives late Tuesday.
Premier Alison Redford is expected to call a provincial election within days.
Prins’s announcement came shortly after his caucus decided that he and other Conservatives on the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing should pay back part of their committee pay. They will return that portion of the money they received since Redford became premier in October.
As chair of the committee, Prins received $1,500 a month or $18,000 annually. The committee hadn’t met since 2008.
Prins said in an interview with the Ponoka News on Wednesday that the decision to resign wasn’t an easy one, but continual challenges to his integrity from the press, public and opposition parties became too much.
“I’ve been called a thief and a liar enough,” Prins said, adding that he has no intention of leaving his community and is proud of the work he has done as an MLA.
“I’ve lived in this community for 60 years. It’s hard when your integrity is put to question. I’ll stay in my community with my head held high,” he said.
Serving the riding since 2004, Prins has worked on some committees where he did not receive remuneration. And he felt he earned the pay he did receive.
“It’s a sad day for the province when politicians are denigrated for getting paid,” Prins said.
Kelly Charlebois, executive director of the Progressive Conservative Alberta Association, said Wednesday they will appoint a candidate in the Lacombe-Ponoka riding very soon.
“There will not be a nomination process because of the proximity to the election so we will be appointing a candidate,” he said.
Doug Hart, NDP candidate for Lacombe-Ponoka, was surprised by the Prins announcement and said it is “unfortunate” that a candidate will be appointed.
“But this will improve other candidates’ chances,” he said.
“It will be an opportunity to send a message to elected officials that they represent people and people are not happy about unethical behaviour,” said Hart, who anticipates an election call as early as Monday.
Tony Jeglum, Alberta Party candidate for Lacombe-Ponoka, said on Wednesday that he too was surprised at Prins’s decision.
“I would like to extend my personal thanks to Ray for his eight years of service in the Alberta legislature,” he stated, adding that he would miss the opportunity to debate with Prins.
Wildrose Lacombe-Ponoka candidate Rod Fox said he thought the announcement was “interesting.”
“Yesterday some of the MLAs did promise to pay a fraction of their salaries but to me it gives meaning to the phrase: ‘Too little to late.’ ”
Karrie Ann Berry, a Lacombe resident, said that Prins made the right decision by not seeking re-election.
“An honest day’s pay is you work for what you get,” she said.
“If you get a paycheque and you get overpaid, you tell your employer. People work so hard and it is not fair for someone to get something that they haven’t earned.”
Glen Mosier, another Lacombe resident, said that the issue of Prins not seeking re-election is a “sad situation.”
“You have to show up to work,” he said, while working on a motor at the Lacombe Alberta Vintage Machinery Club.
“I don’t think any of them should have taken the money,” said Ivar Jensen, who was helping Mosier.
“If you or I had something like this happen to us, we would have to pay it back.”
A review of MLA pay is being conducted by former Supreme Court justice John Major. But in response to the committee pay outcry, Conservative whip Robin Campbell said they decided that committee members should pay back a total of $80,000 — roughly the amount they have received since Redford took office on Oct. 2.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and Wildrose MLAs Heather Forsyth and Guy Boutilier pledged to return the entire payments they have received for committee membership while the committee did not sit, amounting to more than $40,000.
Meanwhile, the MLA seat for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills sits vacant. Richard Marz, who had announced his intent to not seek re-election, has resigned before his term was up.
The Advocate was unable to reach Mars on Wednesday.
“You know, Richard served the area real well and has been a great MLA,” Darcy Davis, Progressive Conservative candidate for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, said Wednesday.
“And it’s his decision on how he wants to go out,” he added.