Power, privilege and the stench of decay

The Alberta Tory payback plan for “work” on a legislative committee that rarely meets sounds hollow and manipulative. It’s also unlikely to succeed politically.

The Alberta Tory payback plan for “work” on a legislative committee that rarely meets sounds hollow and manipulative.

It’s also unlikely to succeed politically.

On Tuesday, the government announced that Progressive Conservative members from the legislative committee on Privileges and Elections, Standing Orders and Printing would each give back $6,000 for work they never did on a committee that has not met for more than three years.

They — as well as opposition members of the legislature — had been receiving $1,000 a month for “sitting” on a committee that last met 39 months ago.

Committee chairman Ray Prins (PC-Lacombe-Ponoka) received 50 per cent more pay for doing nothing of substance on the committee.

He elected to keep the cash and give up his job, announcing his sudden retirement on Wednesday.

His decision seems equal parts sad and cynical.

Prins is a decent man but this situation is just too grim.

Albertans are furious about the scandal. It’s uncertain that Prins could have recaptured his seat in the coming election.

Premier Alison Redford could only convince members of her caucus who sat on the committee to return the pay they received since she became Conservative party leader five months ago.

That won’t get them back in voters’ good graces.

It doesn’t help that Redford was also listed as a member who never attended a committee meeting.

Her saving grace is that she was never paid. The legislature sets limits on what MLAs can receive for committee work and Redford’s other paid duties took her to that ceiling.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman cut a cheque this week for about $40,000, every dime he received for sitting on the committee that never met.

For part of that time, he was a member of the governing Conservative caucus.

His payback is more than a symbolic gesture.

It sets the Liberal Party leader apart from governing Tory MLAs, who seem both cavalier and clueless about what they have been doing.

Sherman’s cheque alone is half as much as all the Tory members on the committee combined are repaying.

It’s incomprehensible to hard-working Albertans that so many members of the legislature — of all political stripes — seem deaf and blind about responsibilities, earnings and political optics.

For Tory MLAs, this could be fatal.

The Progressive Conservatives have been in power for more than 40 consecutive years.

By now, you would think, they should be adept at how to lead the province and how to manage issues, big and small.

Not so.

On the big scale there’s an inability to plan prudently and prepare for the future.

Despite years of oilpatch expansion and global oil prices topping $100 a barrel, the Alberta Heritage Savings Fund has barely grown in the past generation.

Last month, Redford’s government reported the fund was worth $15.4 billion, up fractionally since the days of Peter Lougheed.

He created that fund from royalties on non-renewable resources.

It was supposed to provide coming generations of Albertans with assets to keep Alberta vibrant when the oil runs out.

Right now, it’s an embarrassing pittance to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Norway, a petro-state with a population about one-third larger than Alberta, has amassed a fund worth more than $570 billion.

That’s 37 times as large as ours.

This growing fund will transition Norway long after the oil runs dry.

Our Heritage Fund, by comparison, would support current government spending for less than four months.

The furor over legislators being paid for work they never did is mismanagement on a much smaller scale, but it’s still cavalier and unacceptable.

There’s also this government’s inability to manage the simplest administrative tasks.

Google the Alberta government website for the Standing Committee on Privileges, Elections and Printing.

You will find it contains a list of members, including Ed Stelmach, David Swann and Guy Boutilier.

Stelmach retired eight months ago.

Swann retired as Liberal leader in 2010, a fact his committee bio ignores.

Boutilier was kicked out of the governing Tory caucus 32 months ago and promptly joined the Wildrose Party.

That fact is absent from his committee biography, which makes it sound like he is still a Conservative MLA.

Tiny indeed, but telling.

Careless, or clueless, it doesn’t really matter.

It all comes from a government enveloped in a sense of privilege and the stench of decay.

Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.