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Tory motion would bring back 'transition pay' for Alberta MLAs and boost RRSPs

Alberta premier Alison Redford.


Departing provincial politicians in Alberta could once again collect "transition pay," but they won't be as lavish as past packages, which saw million-dollar paydays as a goodbye gift.

That's if a Progressive Conservative government motion that also calls for a significant hike to MLAs' publicly funded RRSP contributions is adopted.

The legislature's all-party member services committee, which is dominated by Tories, voted Friday to give departing politicians one month's pay for every year of service – to a maximum of 12 months pay – and also double the taxpayer-funded RRSP contribution rate to about $23,000 from the current level of $11,485 annually.

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Under the motion brought forward by Tory MLA Steve Young, the transition pay, which would be instead called "severance allowances," are designed to help a retiring – or losing – politicians with their re-entry to private life. These payouts were hugely controversial in last spring's provincial election after it was revealed that some departing MLAs received massive paydays. Speaker Ken Kowalski, for example, raked in close to $1.2-million. Premier Alison Redford quickly quashed the allowances.

But now the legislature will revisit the idea.

A year ago, Wildrose Party MLA Rob Anderson brought forward a private member's bill that outlined a rejigged – but similar – severance scheme; the Tory majority defeated it. The Tories still have an overwhelming majority in the legislature.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was among three committee members to vote against the motion. (The others were Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth and NDP Leader Brian Mason.) Their big concern was the RRSP contribution – not the severance plan.

"I do not believe that taxpayers want to see enriched RRSP payments," Ms. Smith said, "These MLAs pay zero dollars towards their own contributions to their RRSPs. We could have solved this very easily by maintaining the status quo on the contribution, which is a 50 per cent contribution to the RRSP, and then returning this severance question to the legislature for a vote."

Tory MLA Mary Anne Jablonski defended the overall proposal as more in line with other pension plans and as a way to aid retiring politicians who have dedicated their life to public service, leaving little time to take care of themselves.

"This is not gold-plated and this is sustainable," she said.

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Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who is on the committee but left the room for the vote, said the entire process of debating pensions has turned into a "joke and a farce." He called for an independent outsider to take control of the issue.

"How long are we going to keep debating our pay and perks?" he said.

Derek Fildebrandt, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, was disappointed the RRSP plan doesn't require MLAs to match it dollar-for-dollar. "MLAs need to have some skin in the game when it comes to their own pensions," he said in a statement.

He also called on the legislature to reject severance payments of any kind and called on Ms. Redford to fulfill her promise to Albertans that such allowances would be forever scrapped.

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