Redford government defends spending on MLA offices

The Redford government is under fire for spending more money to finish renovating a building that will house new offices for MLAs.
Premier Alison Redford says the province can't afford wage hikes 2:12

The Redford government is under fire for spending more money to finish renovations on a building that will house new offices for MLAs in Edmonton.

The federal building near the Alberta legislature has been undergoing extensive work for the past four years. In a few months, the final tenders will go out to finish the $275 million project.

For years, the Wildrose party has argued that the project should be put on hold until the province is in a better financial position.

In an interview with CBC News Monday morning, Premier Alison Redford was asked about the plan.

She says the project was started under former Premier Ed Stelmach and stopping now would be a mistake.

"It's six months away from completion and quite frankly if we stopped it now we'd have wasted $175 million," Redford said. 

"Would I have made the decision to go ahead with this? Absolutely not, but it would be imprudent for us to now simply shut down a project and have blown $175 million."

Opposition parties say they want the government to show leadership during tight financial times and scale back the money being spent on the federal building.

The province is facing a multi-billion dollar shortfall in the March 7 budget due to dropping oil revenues.

Warnings to teachers and doctors

Redford continued to warn teachers and doctors who are currently in contract negotiations that Alberta can no longer afford to pay the best salaries in the country.

"When I go around this province and I talk to Albertans that aren't doctors, it's pretty hard for them to justify a 29% increase in salaries, or any increase in salaries, when doctors are paid so much more than they are around the rest of the country," she said during her CBC Calgary interview.

The president of the Alberta Medical Association plans to respond to Redford in a letter in the next couple of days.

The Alberta Teachers Association — which is currently negotiating with all 62 school boards after efforts failed to reach a province-wide contract — is unhappy with Redford's statements.

"I am sick and tried of teachers and doctors and public service workers for that matter ... being blamed," said ATA president Carol Henderson.

"If they're going to point at us for being 20 per cent higher, then maybe they better look at their own salaries — 48 per cent higher than the average."

According to Statistics Canada, the average salary in Alberta is $85,380 per household, about 21 per cent higher than the rest of Canada. Labour expert Bob Barnetson from Athabasca University said public sector unions may fight wage freezes because the cost of living is higher.

"You don't have to go back very far, even to 2010, and public sector workers and nurses and university professors all took wage freezes already," he said.

"And there's just no appetite in the public sector for more wage freezes .The only way the government is going to get a wage freeze is by legislating it."