Tory whip accepts blame for mixed message on MLA allowances
The whip of Alberta's Tory caucus took the blame Monday for confusion that put him publicly at odds with Premier Alison Redford and allowed critics to mock his boss for being out of touch with her team.
Steve Young said he and some of his colleagues misunderstood Redford's marching orders when they passed a motion in committee last Friday to ask the legislature to bring back controversial transition allowances.
Young said he thought the new transition allowances would be OK because they were much cheaper than previous ones and because they had a new name — severance allowances.
"It was nothing like the (old) transition allowance," said Young. "(But) by any other name, it's still a transition allowance."
The mea culpa capped two days of confusion over whether Redford's Tories were bringing back the allowances
Redford killed those payments during the spring election campaign after outraged voters learned they were paying more than $10 million to ease the return to private life for 25 retiring politicians of all stripes. Speaker Ken Kowalski alone got $1.2 million.
Redford reiterated Saturday that transition allowances were dead despite the motion passed by Young and the Tory majority on the all-party member services committee a day earlier.
The confusion opened the door for opponents to claim Redford either masterminded the return of the allowances then threw Young under the bus when public reaction was negative, or was out of touch with her caucus.
"This is the gang that couldn't shoot straight," said NDP Leader Brian Mason.
"That premier is so not in control of events, it really makes me wonder how she's going to manage to run the province for the next four years."
Liberal Laurie Blakeman said it's another example why politician pay should be left in the hands of an independent body.
"MLAs should not be setting their own pay and perks because someone is always going to interfere," said Blakeman.
"As soon as we have the premier saying no transition allowances they're going to call it by another name, or they're going to try and do it another way.
"It's a dog's breakfast and I mean no disrespect to the dogs."
The member services committee made the decision Friday after being tasked with finding a new pension plan for all members of the legislature.
The Tories used their majority to pass Young's motion to have the new pension plan be a straight-up RRSP with taxpayers funding the maximum contribution of $23,000.
Added to that motion was the transition allowance. All opposition parties on the committee either voted against it or abstained.
Young said Monday they thought they were on firm ground because they were basing their bid on a recent independent report by retired Supreme Court Justice John Major on politician pay, which said that transition allowances have their place.
Young also said the old payouts were based on three months' pay for every year of service with no limit, while his proposal was one month for every year to a maximum of 12 years of service.
He also said he thought they were following Redford's direction.
"The premier was very clear (that) the package we came up with had to be reasonable and transparent and the amounts had to be much less (than those recommended by Major)," he said.
Opposition Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she doesn't believe the party whip would bring forward a motion on such a critical topic without Redford signing off on it ahead of time.
Smith said the transition controversy may be a bit of political misdirection to deflect public attention away from the RRSP payouts.
"The very idea somehow (Redford) didn't know what was being introduced beggars belief," said Smith.
"I'm not sure what the games are that they're playing, but I think they kind of got caught in their own web."