Do we get value for our money?

It’s a package deal: several surefire ways to alienate and anger the voting public for one inflated (and growing) price. In February, Alberta MLAs unanimously passed a motion calling for an independent review of their pay and benefits. Premier Ed Stelmach (one of those MLAs) said the review system would be in place by fall at latest. It is not.

It’s a package deal: several surefire ways to alienate and anger the voting public for one inflated (and growing) price.

In February, Alberta MLAs unanimously passed a motion calling for an independent review of their pay and benefits. Premier Ed Stelmach (one of those MLAs) said the review system would be in place by fall at latest.

It is not.

In fact, the matter has yet to even make it to the agenda of the all-party members service committee, which is chaired by Speaker Ken Kowalski, a Conservative.

The Liberal motion followed public outrage (which was heaped on the premier, he admitted) over the 2008 decision by cabinet to give themselves and all other MLAs raises of 30 to 34 per cent. More pay in a time of restraint for many Albertans and downright economic disaster for others did not resonate well with voters.

That the decision to take a pay raise came fast on the heels of a majority election victory and was done without public input or legislative debate should not be surprising.

But the Conservative government, a year ago, decided to take the high road (as it prepared for budget deficits that will reach $5 billion this year). Stelmach’s government vowed in October 2009 to roll back overall pay packages.

A year later, the evidence is in: 18 MLAs earned more than $200,000 in 2009-10. That meant, in many cases, that they made more than in the previous year, despite the promise of rollbacks.

The jaded among Albertans would be tempted to divide that money by the scant days the legislature actually sat this year (five weeks in the fall for a 2010 total of 51 days). Of course, MLAs have constituency duties as well, but the optics are still horrible. In 2009, Alberta’s legislature sat for 65 days; with 14 fewer days spent in Edmonton in 2010, many MLAs actually made more money.

Combine a lapsed promise to review the method by which MLAs in Alberta get pay raises with the festering sore of 2008’s closed-door cabinet decision to determine those raises, a subsequent promise to roll back pay rates and the disclosure now of rising MLA pay packets, and the result is damning.

For the taxpayers of Alberta, this is just one more example of Stelmach’s inability to govern decisively.

We have watched the government limp through the fall, misstep after misstep.

At the top of the list, of course, is the imploding health-care system.

The contentious Alberta Parks Act, which was drawn without adequate public and special interest input, was ultimately withdrawn. It will be resubmitted in the spring session, after public consultation.

The Distracted Driving Amendment Act (principally drawn to manage cellphone use in vehicles) was passed, but faced growing opposition for its lack of toughness and clarity.

A redrawn electoral map was finalized, although it seems no better at addressing previous imbalances that create rural strongholds for the Conservatives and fail to address inequitable representation ratios.

Of course, this kind of political ineptitude seems standard fare in Alberta now. And a package deal is a package deal. Hand a ruling party that has grown unresponsive and sloppy an overwhelming majority, election after election, and alienation and anger are sure to follow.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.