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Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach speaks to reporters after his cabinet was sworn in on Dec. 15, 2006. ((Jason Scott/Canadian Press))

Alberta's premier and cabinet ministers are taking cuts to their salary top-ups, an announcement that comes a day after a televised speech by Ed Stelmach.

Stelmach will take an immediate 15 per cent cut, or $12,196, to his premier's allowance. Ministers are reducing their cabinet allowance by 10 per cent, or $6,391.

Every MLA makes $78,138, a portion of which is a tax-free allowance. Before the cuts announced Thursday, Stelmach had an additional allowance as premier of $81,312, while cabinet ministers with portfolios made an extra $63,912.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates the premier makes $226,000 a year once tax savings and top-ups for committee work are taken into account, while cabinet ministers make $196,865. That would mean the actual cut to the premier's total compensation is 5.4 per cent, and for cabinet members it's 3.2, said Scott Henning, the group's Alberta director.

"It was a whole lot less impressive after I saw that," Hennig said.

'I have a bit of a reluctance to give kudos to them because of the 34 per cent increase they gave themselves last year.' —Doug Knight, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees

On Corus Radio's The Rutherford Show Thursday morning, Stelmach said the reductions were discussed at a cabinet meeting Wednesday.

"I asked them to join me in terms of the salary reductions," said the premier.  "I said, 'I'm taking a 15 per cent reduction. I asked cabinet [for] 10 per cent and they all agreed. Put[ting] it in with the address would have just clouded the message."

Stelmach's chief of staff, Ron Glen, and Brian Manning, head of the provincial civil service, are also taking a 10 per cent pay cut. How much money that will save was not announced.

Shortly after almost sweeping the March 2008 election, Stelmach and his cabinet voted themselves a salary increase of more than 30 per cent, as well as a pay hike for committee work by backbench MLAs.

The president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Doug Knight, said Stelmach's announcement doesn't impress him.

"I'm sure the premier and the cabinet ministers are trying to make the point that they're doing their share," he said. "I have a bit of a reluctance to give kudos to them because of the 34 per cent increase they gave themselves last year."

The previous pay hike also prompted Hennig to temper his praise for Thursday's announcement.

"It's tough to applaud the premier and his cabinet for doing this after taking a 30 per cent pay hike the year before, but I guess it's better than doing nothing and it's at least a start," he said.

No raises for senior managers

On Wednesday night, Stelmach announced that the Alberta government would also freeze the 6,500 salaries of senior bureaucrats for two years to achieve savings of $22 million.

Stelmach said he was also hoping public sector employees would agree to voluntarily freeze their wages over the next two years to help the province weather the economic downturn.

Both Knight, and his counterpart at the Alberta Teachers' Association, Carol Henderson, said they have yet to be officially asked to freeze their members' salaries.

But that would mean opening up collective agreements.

"We have contracts in place that he said he was going to honour and I'm hoping that he will respect that," Knight said. "I know that the implications of the salaries being frozen [for] management for two years will be weighing heavily when we go back to bargaining."

Speech meant to reassure Albertans

Wednesday's recorded television address was a bid to reassure Albertans that Stelmach's Progressive Conservative government has a solid economic recovery plan amid a rising deficit and plummeting energy revenues.

Stelmach outlined a general four-point plan to get the province — currently forecasting a record $6.9-billion deficit this fiscal year — back into a surplus position in three years, without raising taxes.

Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason called on the Progressive Conservative party to reimburse the provincial coffers for the $134,000 it cost to produce and broadcast the video, because he said it was a partisan political announcement.

"There's nothing new in what he had to say, it was simply regurgitating the same old story," said Mason.

Added Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann: "Like many Albertans, I was expecting more. This was a very flat and uninspiring message."