Wildrose pledges free votes, MLA pay cuts

Edmonton — The Globe and Mail

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announces the fifth and final Wildrose pledge called the Alberta Accountability Act in Edmonton on April 9, 2012. (Jason Franson/ The Canadian Press/Jason Franson/ The Canadian Press)

Leading in the polls, Alberta’s Wildrose Party would introduce more free votes, citizen recall legislation, fixed election dates and lower cabinet salaries if elected to form government.

The party announced the moves as part of its Alberta Accountability Act on Monday.

The law would also include a clause allowing citizens to force a referendum, an issue that bubbled up last week when the party’s stance on abortion was questioned.

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“Albertans expect their government to respect their hard-earned tax-dollars, be open and accountable for how they make decisions and to make the legislature a place where Albertans’ voices are heard,” Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said in a news release.

The move includes changes to MLA pay. Cabinet salary hikes of about 30 per cent, made since the last election, will be rolled back, while general MLA pay will be cut five per cent and rolled into a “transparent, fully taxable” system. The severance packages for outgoing MLAs would also be slashed and capped at one-year’s income. Currently, outgoing MLAs take home several years of pay, roughly $1-million each in the cases of departing speaker Ken Kowalski and premier Ed Stelmach.

Wildrose will also take MLA salaries out of the hands of the legislation, convening an independent panel to review pay every four years.

One of Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford’s first moves as premier last fall was to bring in an independent review of MLA pay; that report isn’t expected until after the election. Wildrose’s pledge Monday suggests its findings will be moot if Ms. Smith is premier.

The government will also strengthen whistleblower legislation and expand freedom-of-information laws in hopes of making government more transparent.

Free votes on any bill would be allowed, but would, by default, not be considered non-confidence votes – meaning, if the legislature voted down an act, the government wouldn’t immediately fall unless it had been declared a confidence vote in advance (in which case government members would be likely to side with each other and – if holding a majority – push the law through).

For a citizen-initiated referendum, a Wildrose government would require the support of 20 per cent of all registered voters, much more thanin B.C. (10 per cent) and several U.S. states, the party says. Such initiatives would nonetheless need to be approved by a judge to go forward – a caveat that Ms. Smith relied on last week in explaining why abortion won’t soon be forced onto the ballot.

The pledge comes three days before the leaders’ debate, scheduled for Thursday evening in Edmonton. Election day is April 23.

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