The Alberta government has ended a three-year wage freeze on salaries for senior managers after 17 months, the Wildrose Party said Monday.

Cabinet approved an order in council last week increasing the salaries of deputy ministers and other senior officials by seven per cent over the next three years.

Wildrose Finance critic Rob Anderson said the reversal was baffling and believes it was timed to get the increase in before the Progressive Conservatives pick a new leader.

He also accused the Tories of trying to sneak it past Albertans on a Friday afternoon.

“In the middle of summer, they just break the promise as if it’s just not that big a deal,” he said.

In February 2013, Finance Minister Doug Horner announced the three-year freeze in response to the deficit, then estimated between $3.5 billion and $4 billion. The salary freeze was supposed to save the government $54 million.

The pay raise applies to deputy ministers, chairs of various boards, the Public Affairs Bureau, the Alberta Utilities Commission and the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Alberta’s representatives in Asia, London, Ottawa and Washington are also getting raises.

The salaries for deputy ministers will go from $275,159 to $294,151 by Apr. 1, 2016.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said the government is giving the same raises to managers that it tried to keep from front-line staff over 16 months of negotiations. 

“The irony is the same people who sat across the bargaining table from us, who tried to legislate wage freezes and strip us of our right to arbitration in Bill 46, have now taken the same wage deal they fought to keep from their own front-line staff," AUPE president Guy Smith said in a news release. 

Jessica Jacobs-Mino, press secretary for Horner, said that whenever the government reaches a deal with AUPE, the same wage hikes are extended to all employees. 

“We’re not interested in playing politics and pitting one level of public servant against another and so we’ve done what we’ve done in the past," she said.