Alberta premier suspends transition payments to politicians

Alberta Premier Alison Redford has announced that she is suspending transitional allowances for MLAs leaving politics.

EDMONTON — After getting battered for weeks over gold-plated goodbyes to politicians and pay to committee members who don’t meet, Alberta Premier Alison Redford has declared an unconditional surrender.

Redford, at a campaign stop Thursday, said she is suspending a transition allowance that will pay out a total of more than $10 million this year to 25 departing MLAs of all stripes.

She said she couldn’t do anything about the current payments, but would take action going forward.

She also announced that her Progressive Conservative caucus mates, who had already been ordered to pay back a portion of the money they earned on a so-called no-work committee, will have to pay back all the cash.

“On the issue of MLA compensation, my government should have acted faster and we should have gone further than we did over the past few weeks,” said Redford.

“Growing up I was always taught that the only thing worse than making a mistake was not admitting the fact that you did. I made a mistake on these issues and now I’m fixing them.”

Redford also said she will not accept a transition allowance “win, lose or draw” after the election.

The decision is the final fallback for Redford and her team on what has become a dominant doorstep complaint in the campaign for the April 23 provincial election.

All members of the no-meet committee are paid $1,000 a month, even though it hasn’t held a meeting for more than three years. They were initially paid per meeting, but that was changed to a monthly stipend in 2008.

Liberal and Wildrose party members bit the bullet and paid back thousands within days. The NDP refused, saying MLA Rachel Notley works on so many committees — many for free — that she effectively didn’t get paid at all.

The Tories took the same approach as the New Democrats, dismissing the paybacks as “grandstanding.”

Redford initially said she would not order a payback but would wait for a broader review of MLA compensation, currently underway, by former Supreme Court justice Jack Major.

Days later, she asked the 15 Tories on the committee to voluntarily pay back the cash.

Last week, with public outrage still growing, she directed caucus to take action. It responded by ordering Tory members to pay the money that had been received in the six months Redford has been premier.

Ray Prins, the Tory backbencher who had been chairman of the committee, quit government in protest.

The transitional payment issue has been smoldering for years.

The payments, created to help politicians make the transition back to private life, had quietly and rapidly expanded under former premier Ralph Klein, who scrapped a pension plan for legislature members in 1992.

The 25 MLAs who decided to quit politics rather than run this time will receive an estimated total of $10.6 million. Speaker Ken Kowalski alone will get over $1 million and former premier Ed Stelmach will get close to that.

Alberta politicians are already among the best paid in Canada. The average politician takes in $163,000 a year, while the premier makes over $200,000.

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