Alberta Premier Jim Prentice and members of his cabinet will take a five-per-cent cut in pay effective Feb. 1, a small first step in dealing with a $7-billion shortfall in government revenues.
Prentice made the announcement in a snap news conference late Thursday afternoon.
MLA George VanderBurg, vice-chair of the members' services committee, will bring a motion to a meeting next week asking all MLAs to take a similar five-per-cent cut in pay.
The changes mean that Prentice's salary will drop by $10,887. The salaries of cabinet ministers and MLAs will decrease by $10,050 and $6,700 respectively. The overall savings would be about $600,000.
"Albertans expect first and foremost there will be leadership from elected officials," the premier said.
Prentice has been signalling that he wants public sector unions to make wage concessions as a way to deal with Alberta’s budget shortfall, caused largely by declining oil revenues.
He said discussions have started with public service unions but nothing concrete is on the table. However, he said Albertans are feeling the effects of low oil prices, so everyone should be expected to help out.
"They expect people who work for the government, whether we are elected or whether we are people who are employees, to share part of that burden," he said.
Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said he has no interest in reopening contract talks after undergoing tough negotiations last year.
"Firstly, we have a collective agreement that we've negotiated, and is in place until 2017," Smith said. "And we expect the government to honour that. We're not going to voluntarily accept rollbacks. Especially seeing that in the past five years, three of those years our members have seen zeros, in terms of wage increases."
Smith said the government shouldn't, and actually couldn't, balance its books by cutting the pay cheques of provincial employees.
"Really, the crucial point at the end of all this is that, even if there were rollbacks of salaries on the front-lines of the public service, it wouldn't make any difference at all to the budget situation. It would have such a minimal impact that the problems that the government is having with its finances right now would still be there."
Alberta Teachers' Association president Mark Ramsankar said Prentice shouldn't think about asking public servants to accept wage cuts when wealthy Albertans aren't paying their share.
"Teachers have already done their part and took a wage freeze for three years," Ramsankar said in a news release.
"While teacher wages have been frozen, average wages in Alberta increased by over 10 per cent and the cost-of-living rose by over five per cent."
LISTEN: Pollster Janet Brown and political scientist, Duanne Bratt, discuss the 5% cut for cabinet ministers and the Premier with Edmonton AM host, Mark Connolly.