Why UCP MLAs gave themselves a 5% pay cut last year

The point of MLA wage cuts isn’t altruism. It’s justification.

In yesterday’s news story, I mentioned that Alberta MLAs cut their wages last year by 5%.

And it made me wonder about the connection between MLA wage cuts and budget cuts.

In the last 5 years, MLAs have had their wages cut twice. Last year, they dropped 5% from $127,296 to $120,936 under the UCP government. In 2015, they also dropped 5% under the PCs, from $134,000 to $127,296.

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Albert MLA compensation

There’ve been no other wage cuts that I could find prior to 1994, so I’ll just focus on these two.

Now, let’s look at the budgets in those same years.

In February 2015, then finance minister Robin Campbell reported that the provincial government would have to cut 5% from programme spending.

In October 2019, Travis Toews, the UCP’s first finance minister announced 2.9% in spending cuts.

In February 2020, Toews predicted another 2.5% in operational spending cuts over a 3-year period.

None of these proposed cuts account for inflation and population growth. Otherwise, the percentages would’ve been much higher.

Ultimately, the PC government’s actual budget was much less dramatic, the UCP ended up spending over $400 million more in their budget than they had planned, and they just boosted the current operating budget in the 1st quarter update by an extra $87 million (but still less than the previous year).

So not quite the cuts they were predicting. But that’s not really the point.

In their first budgets, both government had originally planned to make significant cuts. And prior to those planned cuts, both governments implemented 5% wage cuts for MLAs.

Because cutting MLA wages, in their minds, gave them license to cut public sector wages. Look at what Campbell said in his 2015 budget address:

Earlier this year, the Premier announced a 5 per cent reduction in his salary, plus the salaries for Cabinet Ministers, government MLAs, and his office staff. We limited severance pay for political staff and have eliminated unnecessary discretionary spending. These actions serve as an important example to the rest of the public service that we are all part of the solution.

Or Toews during his October 2019 budget address:

In keeping with the McKinnon report recommendations, our goal is to bring Alberta government wages in line with other provinces. Alberta MLAs demonstrated leadership by taking a five per cent salary reduction. The Premier himself took a 10 per cent cut. We will be looking to the public service for restraint.

or Toews earlier this month in response to AUPE wage negotiations.

“Alberta’s government has led the way with pay cuts for the Premier, MLAs and most recently for political staff. The province has revised its bargaining position, asking the public service to take an additional three per cent reduction in the first year and zeros for the next three years. The previous position was for a one per cent reduction. This is a fair and reasonable offer.

The point of MLA wage cuts isn’t altruism. It’s justification.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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