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The Quebec Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, Bernard Drainville, centre, is congratulated by Premier Pauline Marois after he tabled the secularist Charter at the National Assembly in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques BoissinotJacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec's provincial legislators are overworked, underpaid and need a major overhaul of their salaries and benefits, according to an independent advisory committee report.

The blue-ribbon committee headed by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé said the proposed salary increases would be "cost neutral" to taxpayers.

The report called on the National Assembly to be more transparent and to reveal all information regarding expense allowances, indemnities and other benefits elected members receive.

At a time when the Quebec government is struggling to cut spending and increase revenues, the idea of increasing the basic salaries of Members of the National Assembly could become a sensitive political issue and a difficult sale to taxpayers. But the committee insisted that the salary increases would be covered by reducing pension benefits and eliminating certain allowances so that it would be at zero-cost to the public purse.

"It is so easy to accept because it doesn't cost anything," Ms. L'Heureux-Dubé said in releasing the committee report on Friday. "I'm very comfortable with this report…It's fair, it's honest and it's transparent."

Former Quebec Court of Appeal chief justice Claude Bisson, a member of the committee, said it is never popular for any legislature to vote themselves salary increases. But he insisted that this time it's different.

"It will not cost taxpayers anything. It is a readjustment. And I'm telling you that keeping the status quo will cost the same," Mr. Bisson said.

Under the current salary scale an MNA receives the equivalent of an annual taxable income of $118,000. The committee proposed to increase the amount to $136,010. It proposed that ministers be paid $217,616 (instead of the current $154,326 a year) and the premier $272,000 (rather than the current $180,781 a year).

According to the numbers published in the report, the current basic salary for a Quebec MNA was 11 per cent less than an Alberta MLA and 26 per cent less than a federal MP. However a Quebec member receives slightly more per year than a counterpart in Ontario.

In 2014, Queen's Park will enter the final year of a freeze imposed on its elected members in 2009. Ms. L'Heureux-Dubé said that her committee's report was being closely monitored and may serve as a basis for a future revision of MPP salaries in Ontario.

The committee explained that basic salary increases for an MNA would be compensated by abolishing payments received to chair committees. Other savings would come from overhauling the members' generous pension benefits, eliminating attendance allowances to sit on committees as well as transition allowances when members quit or resign during their term in office.

However, exceptions for transition allowances would be made for those leaving for serious health or family matters which would be determined by the province's ethics commissioner. Transition allowance would also be reduced for most MNAs defeated in an election depending on the number of years served and whether they were hired in another job within a year following their defeat.

"We found that over 14 years – over a period of four legislatures – that an average of $5.5-million is paid out at the end of each legislature for those who leave [politics]. That's a lot of money. We wouldn't be talking about the same amount if this report is adopted," said committee member and former secretary-general of the National Assembly, François Côté.

The Minister responsible for Democratic Institutions Bernard Drainville refused to say whether the recommendations would be adopted any time soon.

"This is such a sensitive issue that I can't say what will come out of the report," Mr. Drainville said. "I take some comfort in the fact that the members of the committee say their recommendations would be at zero cost."

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