Alberta Premier Jason Kenney makes an announcement at a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The Prairies have become the epicentre of the second wave of COVID-19 in Canada with exponential growth in cases linked to pandemic fatigue and a reluctance to impose stricter health measures in the fall, infectious disease experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Opinion: Amidst another lockdown, Alberta’s politicians need to take a pay cut

Our politicians are asking Albertans to make massive sacrifices, but most don’t seem willing to make the same sacrifice.

Premier Jason Kenney recently announced that Alberta will be heading into its second lockdown and specifically spoke to those it would hit hardest.

“I know how devastating today’s announcement and these measures are for tens of thousands of small business owners who have been coping through an impossibly difficult year, for hundreds of thousands of their employees and so many others who have found themselves without work,” said Kenney.

Kenney also had a message for those in a very different position.

“I would ask those with guaranteed paycheques, particularly government paycheques, to think for a moment about the Albertans whose entire life savings are tied up in their businesses,” wrote Kenney in a social media post. “Consider what a lockdown would do to their dreams, their futures, and their livelihoods.”

But it’s one thing to know that things aren’t fair, and it’s another thing to take action to make sure the burden of the downturn is shared fairly.

Fortunately, there is at least one MLA who wants to do more than just offer platitudes about how we are all in this together. MLA Drew Barnes is calling on all provincial politicians to start sharing the burden.

“I am calling on my colleagues, all Alberta politicians, including Alberta’s 34 members of Parliament, to take an immediate 20 per cent pay reduction,” said Barnes following the new COVID-19 restrictions.

Barnes also rightly believes that Alberta’s top bureaucrats who are receiving six-figure paycheques need to share in the burden and take a cut. Nearly 2,000 bureaucrats in Alberta government departments received more than $145,000 in compensation last year and a 20 per cent pay cut would save taxpayers $72 million annually, according to analysis from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Aside from the fact that reducing government salaries would reduce the costs on struggling taxpayers, it’s important for our political leaders to show Albertans that they understand the hardships resulting from their decisions. It’s also important for Alberta’s politicians to not become divorced from the financial realities facing their constituents.

Barnes’ proposed 20 per cent pay cut isn’t unprecedented.

Back in April, New Zealand’s prime minister, government ministers and top bureaucrats all took a 20 per cent pay cut. Politicians in Malta, Malaysia and Singapore decided to completely forgo their pay, at least temporarily. And just last month, Lethbridge council agreed to a 10 per cent pay cut.

Alberta’s business leaders are also recognizing the need to make personal sacrifices.

“The reason our executives took the [20 per cent] rollback right away wasn’t because of investor pressure, it was because our employees are taking a hit,” said Dale Dusterhoft, Trican president and CEO. “We can’t ask our people to do something different than us.”

To their credit, all MLAs took a five per cent cut and Kenney took a 10 per cent cut back in 2019. That was an obvious move for a government trying to tap the breaks on runaway spending. But most politicians have be conspicuously silent on taking a cut since COVID-19 and the lockdowns began ravaging our economy this year.

Kenney is asking many Albertans to take a massive financial hit, among other sacrifices. So far, we haven’t seen Kenney and other Alberta politicians make the same sacrifices that they are asking us to make.

Barnes is right to ask his colleagues to help share in the burden. It’s time for his colleagues to do more than just offer simple platitudes and take the 20 per cent cut.

Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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