The Alberta government's nearly 300 agencies, boards and commissions have grown "out of control," the province's Finance Minister admits. With little public oversight, the agencies spend more than $22-billion a year, a combined budget larger than the amount the rest of the provincial government spends.
The 15 highest-paid civil servants in Alberta work for the arm's-length agencies, known collectively as the ABCs, and were not required to disclose their salaries publicly until new rules came into effect in June. Even Finance Minister Joe Ceci's office did not know how much executives at the agencies were paid.
Facing a deficit of nearly $11-billion this year, Mr. Ceci has been looking at the agencies as a way to trim spending without breaking the NDP's promise to protect government services. Thirty agencies have already been dissolved or amalgamated, which is expected to save $11-million annually over the next three years. More cuts will come in omnibus legislation to be tabled in the fall.
The Finance Minister has promised to reset salaries for executives at the agencies, which he says have drifted away from other public sector wages.
"Agencies, boards and commissions grew out of control under the former PC government's watch, including compensation," Mr. Ceci said in a statement.
With little reporting on where the agencies spend their money or how much they raise through user fees, one member of the province's official opposition compared the ABCs to a "shadow government" that dwarfs in size the traditional provincial departments.
The Alberta Health Service is the largest of the agencies, employing more than 100,000 people and operating health facilities across the province. The agencies also include the provincially owned bank, Alberta Treasury Branches, and hundreds of smaller agencies down to bodies like the Wildlife Predator and Shot Livestock Compensation Committee.
Mr. Ceci unveiled new rules earlier this week for staffing agency boards and began by listing the 288 current ABCs. "I promise I won't name them all," he joked. "These agencies do very important work, including providing advice to government, regulating professions and development, and offering service delivery."
Nearly 9,000 people made the first sunshine list of agency workers making above $125,000. Altogether they earned a total of nearly $1.4-billion annually. The head of the Workers' Compensation Board of Alberta topped the list at $896,206.25.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley earns $217,750 per year.
The Alberta government is reviewing the compensation of the 27 highest paid chief executive officers at the agencies, all of them earning more than $200,000 annually. While each agency previously set executive salaries without direction from the government, a mandatory pay scale will be unveiled in November that could reduce compensation for some of them. However, it will not take effect until 2018. Executive salaries will be frozen until then.
The thousands of workers who are not CEOs but make more than $200,000 a year will not be covered by the pay scale. Future regulations could expand the change.
The NDP has not shown a willingness to discuss cutting the salaries or number of workers in the agencies, said Derek Fildebrandt, the Official Opposition Wildrose Party's finance critic.
"Alberta's public sector compensation has been bloated for a long time. We were cautiously optimistic that the NDP would be willing to move to bring that into line, at least within the ABC sector. But we've seen nothing to give us any encouragement," he said.
Alberta's public sector wages have long been the highest in the country. Former premier Jim Prentice said the issue came up repeatedly at premiers' conferences because it skewed wages in other provinces. Ms. Notley has spoken less often on the subject.
Alberta's salary levels are often brought up during negotiations in B.C., an official with the province's Finance Ministry confirmed, especially during bargaining with the province's teachers union. In recent years, those pressures have been reduced, partly due to B.C.'s booming economy and Alberta's deep recession.
"When we look at Alberta we saw that it did put pressure on our wages, but now they're being forced to pay the piper because they have to try to afford all those wages," the official said.